My eleven-year-old daughter has been hassling me recently for “always” picking her up late at school and for being late to “everything” generally. So, this morning, I made damn sure to be early to her classroom presentation for Black History month.
First of all, I’m never really actually “late” to pick my daughter up from school. The bell rings at 2:30, so I arrive at precisely 2:47, when the line has (finally) started moving. I time it this way because I am damned efficient and because sitting and waiting in a not-moving, school car line makes me want to kill myself. But my daughter claims she’s “always” the last fifth grader to be picked up. Ergo, in her tweeny, hormone-surging, moody, not-yet-fully-formed mind, I’m always late.
So, and even though I’m never late but since perception is everything, this morning, I got to school at 9:20 am for my daughter’s 9:30 am presentation on Harriett Tubman, who I’m sure was never late for anything, unlike me, according to my daughter. I wanted to prove to my daughter how punctual I can be.
Now, I’m not a detail person when it comes to my own memories, and I’ve been to my daughter’s classroom exactly once, at the beginning of the school year (I work so I don’t do all that volunteer classroom shit like the good moms). I couldn’t remember where her classroom was. But being that the school has two floors, I knew it had to be on the first or the second, and I concluded, drawing on my memory, that hers was on the second floor.
I went to the second floor and walked down the hallway, searching for my daughter’s classroom. A teacher, seeing me wandering aimlessly, said, smiling, “You must be here for the presentation.”
“I sure am,” I said, smiling back.
“Great, just go on in, right here,” she said, pointing to a classroom.
Whew, I found it!
At that moment, I saw my daughter at the end of the hallway, walking towards some stairs, headed towards the bathroom.
I walked into the classroom and sat down. My daughter’s teacher wasn’t there. Another woman was directing the kids. Teacher’s aid, I concluded. I recognized some of my daughter’s school friends from her fourth grade class.
I waited patiently for the presentation to begin. Another five minutes passed, and my daughter still hadn’t returned from the bathroom. I started to get a weird feeling, something felt off, but I talked myself down from it. She’ll be back soon, I told myself, she must have had to poop. Sometimes that does take a while, I thought to myself, pooping.
I started looking around the classroom, carefully. About ten other parents were in there. I didn’t recognize any of these people. Some of them were looking at me, too, a little strangely, like how someone looks at you at a wedding, trying to figure out your connection. Bride or groom?
I scoured the posters and boards around the classroom. My daughter’s teacher’s name wasn’t on any of them. And these kids, some of these kids, they didn’t look at all familiar to me. I was starting to suspect something.
Finally, the teacher announced, “Alright, kids, let’s begin our presentations.”
I looked around again. Slowly.
My daughter was not in this classroom.
And that’s when I figured it out.
I was not in my daughter’s classroom.
I got up slowly, quietly, and walked in front of all of the other parents and walked out of the room. Maybe they’ll just think I had to pee, I thought to myself. I hoped I would never have to see them again.
The teacher was still there in the hall, and she smiled at me again, as if I still belonged there.
I said to her, honestly, because I was too humiliated by my stupidity to make anything up at that point, “I think I went to the wrong classroom.”
“Who’s class are you looking for?”
“Miss Smith’s,” I said, staring at my toes.
“Oh, that’s downstairs, go down the hall, down those stairs, first door on your left,” she said.
I hauled ass down the hall, flew down the stairs, and bolted into my daugher’s classroom.
The presentations were just starting. My daughter saw me and smiled. I smiled back, found a seat, and watched the presentation.
After it was over, my daughter walked over, hugged me, and said, “Thanks, for coming, Mom.”
I smiled and said, “Sure, honey. And I wasn’t even late.”