guaging reactions

It was an off day. It didn't feel right from the get up and go, even though we were on-time to the breakfast table. Realizing it was Wednesday, I dashed for ballet bun pins and post-school snacks and tossed the bag with dance shoes towards the door. The garage went up and we ambled down the street to the bus. It was extra chilly, so we had a few rounds of the hokey pokey to get the blood moving. When that got old, Caroline initiated "red light, green light" until Mommy finally realized it was 8:20 and school started in fifteen minutes. We must have missed the bus by moments. Perfect.

With both kids, two backpacks, and a forgotten dance bag in the foyer (DOH!), we headed down the driveway at a brisk pace in Lulu the Subaru determined to get Caroline to school ontime. It was still possible. Construction on our route had me go a different way because I was certainly NOT going to be responsible for tarnishing her perfect attendance. I thought we could just swing around the school, but I saw parents taking their kids to the back door, so in we went. I hadn't done an in-person morning drop since the new protocols went into place for pick up and drop off. I assumed they knew what I didn't, but really none of us knew anything, we were all just late.

The back door greeted us with a BIG orange sign indicating that all doors are locked and everyone should access the main entrance, completely opposite of where we stood. "C'mon," I said. "We need to go around." I diverted attention from this abnormal janut by pointing out playthings on the preschool playground, squirrels galloping up trees, anything to avoid a complaint or question. When the front door was in sight, Caroline suddenly said, "Why are the doors locked?" My heart beat faster, but I managed to calmy, and evenly, answer her question. "The doors are always locked when school starts. We are late today." A BLATANT LIE, we were still ONTIME. "But why, why are they locked?" I was screaming in my head, I just kept walking, keeping my tone even, "To keep you safe and to keep strangers out." (nothing is more scary to me than being locked IN somewhere.) "Like bad guys with guns?" I stopped. No, I halted. "What do you mean, bad guys with guns?" She squirmed. She was trying it out, she hid her face a bit and smiled at me like she knew she had a delicious secret.

I was alone, on that walkway, feet from the entrance to her school, Connor on my hip, and I had to steady myself. How did she know? Why did she know? WHAT did she know???? It didn't occur to me until later that she rides the bus with fourth and fifth graders, as pointed out by Kiki. She had heard something, but I still don't know what. In that moment, I gave her my full gentle attention. I gently inquired what she meant and then I assured her that this was a safe place and she didn't have to worry about things like that. I almost believed myself. Then I calmly walked her to the main entrance where she needed to be let in by office staff and I was told that only she could enter the school. I was happy to hear that, to see it in action, but I saw her face look back at me knowing this was not how we had done this last time, or any time before that.

I would have collapsed right there in front of the beautiful fragile glass archway window of the library, housing tiny chairs, picture books, a lego table, had it not been for Connor. I held it together for him, and managed to drop him off with a huge smile on my face before calling Steve and telling him, "she knows."


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