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Jason had a track meet. The school sent home a flyer noting that the track meet would probably go long, so arrangements should be made for students to be picked up between three thirty and four thirty.
Jason and I had a plan.
I would pick up his younger siblings at the usual time. We would hang out at a pizza parlor within site of Jason’s school, waiting for him to arrive.
Jason would borrow a chaperone’s cell phone to call us when he was on the way.
After school, Collie, Lillie and I killed time at the library. At three thirty, we walked to Jason’s school. “Let’s go in to see if there is any news from the track team,” I suggested.
The security guards said the track team had been back since eighth period. The students had been dismissed at the usual time.
“Really? The school sent home a flyer saying there were due back after school, between now and four thirty.”
“Let me see about that,” a guard suggested. She waved to someone down the hall. “Mister Poole, can you come over here, please?”
Mister Poole, an assistant principal, joined us. He confirmed that the track team had returned at eighth period.
“But . . . the flyer sent to parents said it would go until after school.”
“I don’t understand this,” Mister Poole replied, putting his hands on his hips. He flagged a man coming down a stairway. “Jim, did your students come back from the track meet?”
“That’s right, they were back at eighth period.”
“Huh,” I said. “Well, I don’t know what to say. I wish I had brought the flyer. It was pretty clear about the time students would return.”
“Daddy?” Lillie asked. “Where’s Jason?”
“That’s what we are trying to figure out, sweetie. Don’t worry.”
Lillie and Collie both looked worried.
Where was Jason?
Jason can be spacey, like any kid. I wouldn’t be surprised that he forgot to call after the track meet.
If he had returned early, perhaps he had followed through with a usual routine for that day, and walked to his mother’s workplace.
I called Lucy.
“I know. What is it?”
“I am at Jason’s school. His track meet was today, as you know, and he was supposed to be back between three thirty and four thirty. The office says the track team was back early. He’s not here. Is he with you?”
“Jason’s track meet apparently ended early.”
“He’s not with you?!”
I coughed. “I am at the school. Apparently the track meet ended early. He’s not here.”
Lucy sighed in profound exasperation. “He is not with me. This is your day to pick up the children, Jefferson. I can not deal with this now.”
“Hello?” No answer. She hung up on me.
“Dad . . .”
“Just sit over on the bench, Collie. We’ll figure this out.” I returned to the security desk, where Mister Poole and the guards were talking.
“Okay, I’m a little concerned here. My son was at the track meet, and now we don’t know where he is. Can we find anyone who was at the meet who may have seen him?”
Mister Poole looked concerned. “Hmmm. Well, the faculty and students are gone for the day . . .”
My cell phone rang. Unidentified caller.
“Jason! Where are you?”
“We’re at Van Cortlandt Park, just about to get on the bus. We did really well today!”
“You are still at the meet?” I looked at Mister Poole. He looked confused. He picked up a phone and dialed.
“Yeah, we are just about to leave. So, are you at school?”
“Yes, we’ll see you when you get here. Bye baby, I love you.”
Mister Poole held up a finger as he completed his call. He returned the phone to the receiver.
“What grade is your son in?”
“That’s it, then. We were mistaken. The eighth grade came back early, but the sixth and seventh graders are still out.”
“Whew. Well, that’s resolved.”
“Sorry for the confusion.”
“It happens. Just glad it worked out.” I turned to the kids. “So, Jason is on his way here. You want to get some pizza?”
“Yes!” They were relieved. Thank God the grown ups got it right this time.
As we walked down the sidewalk, I called Lucy to alleviate her worries.
“It’s me. So the school made a mistake and Jason is on his way here now. It’s just as the flyer said.”
“Oh, thank God.”
“So, about before: I call about the kids and you hang up on me?”
“I really can not deal with this now.”
I pocketed the phone.
She had repeated that same phrase—“I really can not deal with this now”—in putting me off.
A mantra. Does that indicate that she’s in therapy?
Jason showed up right on time, sporting a new personal best in the one hundred yard dash.
Jason is now at an age—eleven and a half—when many city kids use public transportation on their own. That was the dream of my suburban childhood: the liberty to go places independent of my parents and their cars.
Yet now that I am on the parenting side of childhood, it is hard to let go.
Once Jason takes to the subways and bus lines, as most of his peers have done, the city is his for the price of a student Metro Card.
He is a good kid, and a smart one. I am a vigilant parent. He will be fine once he is out there on his own.
Just . . . not now. Maybe next year.