Not content to keep our lives as uncomplicated as possible, Dick and I chose the less-trodden path when it came to selecting a public school for Adam to attend Kindergarten . Rather than choosing the brand new school we can see from our backyard, the path we chose has led us to, what we call in Florida, a “magnet school” – this one located on the other side of town.

Adam’s magnet school is about a 30-minute drive from our home and leaves us about 30-minutes northwest from our respective work locations.  Essentially Dick and I lose about 2 hrs. a day driving to and from school.  Certainly this change is costly in time, gas & patience but we feel the benefit of our sacrifice is an education for our son that is focused on constructive self-expression through the arts, a teaching staff that is very well-trained and accommodating of Adam’s learning style, and a diverse environment where he can grow up with friends of all different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

But aside from the commute, the biggest shift in our daily routine is the school drop-off.  What used to be a 20-minute process involving parking, cajoling, gathering Adam’s back-pack and other belongings, walking him inside and chatting with his teachers, has turned into a 10-minute process of lining up behind dozens of other parents, pulling up to a designated drop-off point (as directed by a traffic monitor) and then watching as my van door flies open and my son & his belongings are extracted by an anonymous school volunteer – all of this before I’ve even come to a complete stop.  By my estimation, the last time Adam was extracted from anything so efficiently it was from my uterus in yet another surgical, highly impersonal process that required little involvement from me.

Even as my barely caffeinated brain tries to grasp the sudden absence of my kid, I find myself yelling plaintively at a freshly closed sliding door, “Have a great day Adam! I love you!”.  Simultaneously, horns honk from behind me and I’m waved on by another traffic monitor whose frantic screams of “Keep it movin’!” as she waves her hands insistently toward the exit, finally succeeds in startling me back to reality.


Adam’s magnet school is in a rather run-down working class neighborhood predominantly occupied by African-American and Latino families, many of whom raise chickens in their yard and have at least 1 car up on cinder-blocks in their driveway.  It’s very different from our native suburban surroundings but not anything I’d call unsafe.  In fact, the surroundings don’t really concern me at all since I grew up in similar circumstances – but I understand that other parents are less laid-back than we are.  So to mitigate concerns about blue-collar knife-wielding pedophiles roaming the campus, the school takes great pains with security.  In fact, the school is so locked down that it’s almost impenetrable.  I jokingly call it “the fortress” as I’ve only made it as far as the cafeteria on one occasion – the first day of school.  But that’s not for a lack of trying…

You see, in addition to the drop-off queue, “car riders” as kids like Adam are called, can be walked up to the main gate by a parent and passed off to a student volunteer who walks them to their class. Once I realized that I was never going to be allowed to penetrate the confines of the fortress without a Papal dispensation or a permission slip from the Principal, I decided to circumvent the impersonal vehicular drop-off process and use my cunning to get past the security patrol that consists of several larger 5th graders and a few volunteer moms with whistles.  Surely I can smooth-talk and outwit an 11-year old?

Two weeks into the Kindergarten routine, I decided to give it a shot and see how far I could get into the fortress.  One morning I arrived early – around 7:30 – and we began our trek from the distant church parking lot several blocks behind the school, through a fire-ant infested field and narrowly avoiding death in the Frogger-like parking lot.  When we finally approached the school gate with the adjacent doors to the cafeteria I looked around.  The coast was clear.  I had a straight shot into the school’s central courtyard and Adam’s cluster of buildings just beyond. Easy-peasey.

As we slipped past a busy volunteer mom who was on child-extraction duty in the vehicle drop-off queue, our progress was suddenly impeded by a cheerful fat kid wearing a “School Safety Cadet” badge.  With an earnest smile the pudgy boy placed his arm around Adam’s shoulder pulling him inside the fortress as he said to Adam, “Say bye to mommy,” and then to me, “I’ll take him from here, ‘mam.”

I pulled Adam towards me.  ”No. Actually, I’m going to walk him to his classroom today,” I said nonchalantly.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  You’ll have to go to the front office and get a pass to come on campus ‘mam.  In the meantime, I’ll get your son to his room…”

I tugged Adam back towards me again. “That won’t be necessary. I promised my son’s teacher I’d talk with her in person this morning about an important matter. I’ll just be a few moments…”  I moved forward, pushing past the pudge as I tugged on Adam’s arm.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you onto the campus without a pass, ‘mam. I’m sure your son’s teacher will want you to follow our safety procedures and I’m sure you want to set a good example for your son about following the rules, right?  The office is just down the walkway on the left.”

Before I could think about my next move, let alone mutter my next sneaky-twisty-super-smart response – POOF! – Adam was gone. I’d been foiled by a pudgy do-gooder.  Like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub, this highly-trained 11-yr old had prevented me from setting foot inside.  Denied!

On the upside, I couldn’t help thinking that this must be a really good school if an 11-year old can make it into middle management while adults like me are still clawing our way out of organizational obscurity at our thankless jobs…


Of course my curiosity is really piqued now.  What are they doing in there?  Curing cancer?  Splitting atoms?  And yes, I know I can go to the office and arrange to go on campus “legally” anytime I’d like.  But it’s the sanctity with which the administration and volunteers hold their duties as school security officers that takes me aback.  How do they recruit these people, keep them all trained, on message, on point, highly organized – including 11-year old boys – on what must be a shoestring budget, at best?  My company (who even in it’s dire straights probably has access to more cash than your typical public school) can’t even organize a picnic without a committee and board approval, and even with all the red-tape, the potential for employee mishaps and misery is substantial.

I guess I’m pleased to see the school administration and volunteers taking such great care with my child’s safety; it’s definitely reassuring. But I also think it’s a little bizarre.  I don’t remember being so locked down as a kid in Kindergarten.  Do you?  Is this how it is everywhere? Can this level of security be chalked up to the “Columbine effect”?  Are most white people really as jumpy about sending their kid to a working-class, multi-ethnic neighborhood as they seem to be?

Whatever the reason, the change in our routine is profound and only as I sit here writing about it is it all finally starting to sink in. I have to admit that the only reason I wanted to come on campus that day was to watch Adam walking toward his classroom – like a big kid with his adorable peacock-feather bed-head, his new uniform and his “Cars” backpack slung across his shoulders.  I just wanted to hold onto that image for another moment – a tiny boy navigating a very big world.  In truth, I wanted to be a voyeur and get a glimpse at the next chapter in his life story.

If the past few weeks have taught me anything it’s that the hardest part of this big transition is in learning how to deal with it. Not so much our kids but for us!  Up until now Dick and I have been documenting Adam’s transitions from our perspective. But now the writing burden has shifted to Adam and our new role is merely to teach him how to write his own story.

I think, if it were up to me, I’d be calling this new chapter in Adam’s life “The Fortress”; that’s what I’m calling it in my own story. But maybe in Adam’s story it will be called something even more exciting like, “Chapter 5: Curing Cancer & Splitting Atoms – All While Learning Phonics”.  Whatever he decides to call it I, for one, am on the edge of my seat.  No one told me what a page-turner this story would turn out to be.

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