She's usually walking to the school at the same time I am, but instead of chasing after a reckless 3-year-old, she's pushing a cherub-faced toddler in a grubby umbrella stroller. She's always wearing sweatpants and she looks tired but she always has a smile for my spirited preschooler as he barrels past.
He's got the hardened carapace of someone who has little experience with things coming easy in life, and if I saw him on the street at night I might quicken my step. Battered baseball cap pulled low, hands jammed in his pockets. He wears a stony expression like a wooden fence, until his little boy emerges from the tumble of shouting children, and then he sweeps his son into his arms. His smile is a full-body transformation.
Every weekday I wait with a crowd of parents at the front of the school. We stand near the doorway, along the walkway, huddled under the covered area on rainy days. A few people talk with each other; most don't. I don't know anyone by name, but I can describe them all, because they are a joy to watch.
Do you remember how families used to be able to meet each other at the gate in an airport? Do you remember walking off the plane into an anticipatory crowd, everyone's eyes eagerly scanning for that one special face? Do you remember how that felt like a wall of love—like a shimmering something you could almost reach out and touch?
This is what school pickup seems like to me. Those of us who cluster around the entrance on a daily basis are a mishmash of cultures and interests and backgrounds and ages, but there is this joyous connection. We all have this thing in common. We stand around, shifting from foot to foot and glancing at our watches, and as soon as the bell rings our faces aim as one towards the doors and when our children are spotted we light up like Roman candles. They pour out in uneven shouting lines dragging their oversized backpacks and coats and I swear right then that each and every one of us adults would take a bullet for any kid we see.
She pushes a double jogging stroller with a toddler and a baby, he must come straight from work because he's always in a suit, she wears a gloriously-colored sari, she's in flip-flops even though it's 40 degrees, he's someone's grandfather, she's always pecking on a phone but it disappears the instant her towheaded daughter makes an appearance.
I look at everyone and sometimes my eyes feel hot and I think how it's so easy to start believing that the world is full of angry, hateful humans, but look at us right now. I'm reminded of the way my babies would reach for a some drab everyday thing like a dandelion, their tiny starfish hands gently brushing the soft yellow tops in pure wonder, and how they taught me to see everything differently. How they still do.
Image via Linda Sharps