Once you’ve entered the single lane drop-off circle at your child’s school, you must continue on through and come round for another pass if your kid is not among the waiting throng of middle school aged students. Maybe one child is delayed because he forgot his musical instrument and had to run back into the music room to retrieve it. Maybe another has stayed behind to talk to the band director for a bit. If your child has not yet arrived at the “Pick-Up Pit,” you must drive around in the circle again. That’s the rule.
You do NOT park in the single lane circular drive. No. You. Do. Not. And surely, you don’t actually consider the drop-off circle a good place to park, get out of your car and chat with the gal behind you, who also has parked her vehicle. Do you actually think the appearance of your draping arm on the window frame of your friend’s car is acceptable to me, or any of us, who wait impatiently in our vehicles behind you? Do you think we enjoy watching you two “parkers” chat, while we await the magical appearance of your children so that we can all be on our merry way? When your pleasant chat has suddenly taken on a note of hilarity, you can’t possibly think that we will be amused by the way you throw your head back, laughing with great gusto at the sky above.
Many more children have now arrived and are milling about, anxiously waiting to get inside their cars which will take them home where they can finally eat a snack or begin their homework. Since, you, Ms. Chatter, are still outside your vehicle with your draping arm, we can only assume that your child is not yet among the gathering. All of the other children wait. All of their parents wait. It’s one massive waiting party…for your child to arrive…sometime soon, we hope. A few children, but only a few, have wandered into the curvy drive to make their way to their respective cars. This kind of thing, walking out into the pick-up/drop-off lane, stepping in between waiting cars, is strictly forbidden. But now, even as these children, who have risked going against the rules, are safely inside their cars, they will still be forced to wait because their vehicle cannot move until that first parked car has pulled away from its position at the front of the line.
There is so much waiting.
I am four cars behind you chit-chatty ass-hats* and I am growing more frustrated by the second. I think I should warn you. I am from New Jersey and my Jersey gasket is about to blow. Do you want to see that? I don’t think so. I have two kids waiting back home, the youngest one was sitting on the toilet when I had to leave so quickly to pick up one of the older ones here at the school. Since we’re in chatting mode, let me explain something. There’s no way the four-year-old will wipe herself properly when her business in the bathroom is done. Furthermore, there is little possibility that her nine-year-old brother, who is “babysitting,” will assist her in any kind of satisfactory clean-up effort. If something disastrous happens in my bathroom, I’ll have to hold you, the parked chatters, responsible. This was only supposed to take five minutes, beginning to end. It’s going on ten minutes now.
I can see my eldest daughter up ahead. She is waiting patiently under the small white tent that was erected to keep the students in the waiting area cool despite a potent California sun. I’m glad my daughter won’t get sunburn while she waits here today. I wonder, should I get out of the car, escort her back to the vehicle and then we can wait together, she and I, and talk about the ridiculousness of this situation? My daughter waves at me. She smiles and shrugs her shoulders with a question mark. “I don’t know what’s going on! Just be patient, Mom.” I watch as the three drivers in the cars in front of me grow even more impatient themselves. There is no honking, but the drivers inside are becoming physical. One strains to get a clearer view of the scene at the front by poking his head out the window. A hand is suddenly thrust out of another car. I see that the palm is being raised up toward the sky. “What IS the hold up?” the palm says.
A circular drop-off is like a rotary, people of Saratoga. Yes. It. Is. You drive in, you drive out. And when you drive into the circle, you do so with purpose and a modicum of speed. You stop only to safely let your child into or out of your vehicle. There is no parking. Do you not see the signs that clearly say “NO PARKING?” There are four of them in my view now. Is this a west coast thing, this nonchalance, this carefree attitude about Drop-off Rules? I am warning you, I cannot be trusted if I have to watch this display of indifference much longer.
Finally, the car in front is on the move. Can it be true? The chatty mother’s child has arrived at last! I see a girl who looks older, an eighth grader perhaps, seated on the passenger side of the at-fault vehicle. She has long blond hair, like that of her chatty mother. Formerly parked vehicle number two is on the go as well. But I only have eyes for vehicle number one and the chat monster at the wheel — since she has done so much to delay me. Chat Lady is about to pass by my car as I enter the circle and as she exits it. I look over at her and start to unroll my window. I’m going to say something. Yes, I think I will. I need to tell her about the Drop-Off/Pick-Up Circle Rules, because clearly she is unaware. But as she passes, she waves at me and smiles. A huge grin of recognition spreads across her large face. Do I know her? Do I know chatty lady? And is that smile on her face a genuine one? Like so many other instances during my time in California, I can’t tell whether the smile is genuine or not. Before I can really help myself, I smile back at her and then, she is gone. I’m inching up within the circle now. I approach the spot where my daughter stands; her wait is almost over. I unlock the door so she can quickly enter our car. I start right in on my tale of exasperation but I’m not as angry now, I notice, and the conversation with my daughter is quickly progressing to other topics. Already we’ve exited the circle and I can see in the rear view mirror that the car line is once again moving at a steady pace.
On the short trip home, I think to myself, what an exhausting, full fifteen minutes that was. After parking in our driveway, I help my daughter unload her trumpet case and backpack from the back seat. It’s good to be home. Another pick-up errand done. I wonder, though, as I quickly climb the steps to the kitchen door, whether I will be able to maintain this more positive attitude when I see what’s become of my bathroom. I’m going to try to hold onto the image of that smile, the one offered by the aloof, chatty, parking mother. I really am. But when my nostrils pick up the distinct odor of a bathroom tragedy as I pass through the kitchen into the hall, I instantly decide it all depends on what kind of horror awaits in that bathroom. A lot of toilet-y damage can be done by a four-year-old if you get held up in a stalled drop-off circle by people who just don’t observe the rules. If it’s bad, if the bathroom turns out to be the disaster I suspect, my inner Jersey’s going to get the best of me, and then I’m going to have to let someone have it. I’m going to have to give a colorful speech about the rules. I really am.
* a marvelous term coined by the delightful and inspired author, Anne Lamott