Today I had my belief in angels reconfirmed.
It went like this:
Little Miss M, my youngest daughter (“quite contrary”), was discovered to be hiding a whole busload of demerit points for homework not done, at school, yesterday. Homework books that mysteriously disappeared and had to be replaced with a new one, suddenly made sense. Letters I should have received… you get the idea.
So after some serious talks, the 11-year-old decided for herself to make use of the school’s system for clearing demerit points: Detention. One detention class clears 50 demerit points, so she only had to sit twice to get her overload of demerits cleared and prevent things from running off the rail.
That sleepless night happened for me on Tuesday night, by Wednesday morning we had it sorted: She was going to sit detention today. The timeframe was 13:45, when school came out, until 16:15, or so we were told.
Both Hubbs and I were working at that exact time, so he said he’d pick her up at 16:35, when his student left. And he did – except that he arrived at the school gate, and Miss M was not there.
I had a feeling, so I called to find out how the picking up was going, and found out that no, it wasn’t going at all. My student was sent home with a promise to catch up the lesson (I made sure her mom picked her up, so she wouldn’t fall through the cracks too!), and then I was on my way to school. I arrive, and still no M. I march all across the school grounds and end up at the aftercare, where a sweet kiddie takes me to the classrooms where they sat detention. Nobody. The office: already closed. The teachers: already gone. Lots of parents though, watching a cricket match…
At that point I was still hanging onto the idea that M had hidden away in some corner to read Eragon, she does that kind of thing. But where?? There is building going on on the school grounds, this made me very uneasy. Wherever there is building happening, there are also characters that hang about looking for victims. I don’t quite understand how the two processes are associated, but they are.
When my young guide from the afterschool centre told me about an abduction of two girls that happened not too long ago, and told me they were found “where the people trade drugs”, the message started sinking in. This may be real. Maybe she’s not hiding in a corner reading Eragon. I alerted the neighbourhood watch, one of whom is a close personal friend, and they activated a search, looking all around the suburb for M. My friend called me back and asked me if I had the number of any of the teachers – no, only of the office, about 3 different numbers for the office. The teachers who supervised the detention should have known at least something… or could maybe provide a lead – bummer that they had already left! I approached some of the parents sitting watching the cricket game, and two of the moms gave me numbers for teachers, whom I tried phoning – everyone and their buddy seemed to have their cellphones switched off. The one mom alerted her school What’sapp group, let me post a message, took a picture of M from my cellphone and posted it. My father called – first I ignored the call as I was taking down a teacher’s number but the second time I did answer – and I didn’t know what to tell him, I had no answers, we both just listened to the phone in horrified silence…
We were still in the middle of “What’sapping” the group, and I had sent Hubbs home to get in touch with the residential group in our complex – when his call came.
Our neighbour called him. M was with her; the neighbour, B, had seen M sit quite despondently on the little green playground of the complex, and she spotted that our cars weren’t there. So she called Hubbs, because she instantly connected that something was wrong.
M had walked home.
It was a double relief – firstly that she had been found, and secondly that she’d made it home safely!
Now, to understand this, you’d have to be South African.
Some people still let their kids walk home in this place. I’ve never allowed mine. We live exactly across from “that place where people trade drugs”, that has been pointed out to the police so often and yet it persists. That’s half our problem. And the other is that the lovely river that runs along the main road she had to trudge along (and that crosses the side roads she walked, at least once) is infested with over 40 human predators of the worst kind.
A generation back I walked home 1.8 kms from school every day of my life, from the time I was around 10 – and it was never a problem. (Except for me, because it’s not always fun lugging a heavy schoolbag for 1.8 kms in the scorching heat of a mid-summer mid-afternoon in Africa. Other kids were fetched from school.) It was certainly never a safety issue. And very often I walked alone because we – my brother and I – generally did not have activities at the same time.
Turn back the clock by 30 years and people would have looked at me funny and asked, “but, helicopter mom, what on Earth are you stressing about??”
Turn back the clock only 5 years, to a place in Brooklyn where I used to teach – a place that closed its gates against its own kids in the afternoon because of after-school hooliganism and vandalism – a primary school that sent its children waiting for parents to the park diagonally across the road, until a girl got abducted from there, too… That’s the more accurate picture.
Today M had a ton of guardian angels protecting her; and I learnt again that there is no such a thing as a foolproof system, for fools are ingenious!
I never, never ever want to experience that kind of panic again that I went through in those 90 minutes of searching.
My father’s comment: “Yes… they make us older, those kids! That’s why parents end up old.”