Reflections on After-School Pick-Up

It’s rainy, because it’s January in Vancouver. I just thank my lucky stars it’s not snowing, because when it does the entire city loses its head, and I’m first in line. I’m wearing rain boots and my long winter coat, and carrying an umbrella. I remember buying this umbrella for my husband, some 14 years ago. Only he wasn’t my husband then. I don’t think we were even engaged yet. The umbrella hasn’t held up as well as our relationship, I’m afraid. It’s missing the little piece of plastic at its top, which has allowed water to seep into the metal frame, leaving telltale rust signs at the joints. Each time I use it I fear it may be the last – it’s harder and harder to force it all the way up until I hear the telltale click.

Luckily, today is not the umbrella’s last day. Today, it comes through for me. And so I am mostly dry, if a little chilly, as I make my way towards the school for afternoon pick-up. I hurry, having left the house just a little too late. Fortunately for me I don’t have my four-year-old with me today, so I’m making good time. I look around me at my rain-soaked neighbourhood. The trees on the mountain ahead are sort of pretty, shrouded in mist. Nearer to where I walk purposefully along, the houses and cars are the same as they always are, but their colours appear less vivid in the gloomy light. The bright, puffy holiday lawn ornaments that some of my neighbours have neglected to take down just seem sad, now. Like me, I imagine that they’d rather be someplace warm and dry.

after school pick upAs I think about the feelings of the giant inflatable polar bear, I am reminded of that old IKEA commercial about the lamp. Do you remember it? This lady puts her old lamp by the side of the road, where it sits sadly on a dark and rainy night while she sets up her new lamp inside her window. At the end a drenched man with a Swedish accent says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.” (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can watch it on YouTube.) I know the lawn ornaments don’t have feelings, either, but I still see them as sad and bedraggled, despite their permanently smiling features.

As I reach the intersection just down the hill from the school, I’m joined by a number of other people headed in the same direction. Sometimes, we smile and nod or chat. Today, we don’t seem to be up for much conversation, huddled under our umbrellas. We stand silently, until the light changes. At the other side, we join the line of parents, grandparents and caregivers trudging single-file up the hill. Some of our number are pushing strollers, while others are holding tightly to the hands of younger brothers or sisters. As we walk, it occurs to me that we’re like the most boring parade in the world, and the rain that’s falling relentlessly down on us only makes it worse. No one would set up their lawn chairs to watch our sombre figures marching along.

As we near the top of the hill, everyone peels off, heading to their own designated meeting spot. Mine is around the back of the school, and so I am one of the last to leave the line. Sometimes I think I should ask my daughter to meet me somewhere else, to shorten my walk at least a little. But somehow, I never seem to remember to bring it up when she’s actually with me, so it’s around the back I go.

after school pick upThe bell rings as I reach my destination, and things change suddenly. The back door of the school swings open, and children pour out. Unlike their parents, who favour dark colours in their outerwear, the children are dressed in a riot of hues. There are pinks, blues, yellows, oranges, greens – not just in their coats, but their rainboots, their clothes, and their backpacks. They stop under the covered area outside the door, scrunching up their noses, frowning when they realize it’s raining. They’ve been waiting for this, their moment of freedom, since lunchtime. The rain has interfered, but being children they just shrug and move on.

It feels like my daughter is always one of the last to leave, but soon enough I see her. She takes my hand, and makes her good-byes to everyone in eyesight that she has even a passing acquaintance with. Once she’s done, she turns her attention to me, as we walk more slowly towards home. She chats away, telling me about what happened at school, asking what she can have at home by way of a snack, discussing what TV show she’ll watch before we go pick up her brother. The quiet, sombre part of my day is over. The walk back home is a very different affair. It’s the reason for the parental parade, the outing in the rain, the cold fingers clutching my umbrella. This girl who won’t let go of my hand is one of the few things that can pull me out of my warm home on a rainy day. And as I look at her, I don’t even really mind the weather so much at all.

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  1. Beautiful post, Amber!

    Yes, I remember that poor IKEA lamp.

  2. Lovely post Amber!

  3. Tears ** I don’t pick my children up from school hardly at all any more – working full time and living across the street means they bolt out the door all on their own.

    But I totally know the feeling of love that comes from your toes up to your eye lashes when you hold your childrens’ hands.

    • To be honest, I’m kind of jealous of your set-up. I love walking home from school holding my daughter’s hand, but sometimes it’s really hard to convince myself to walk out the door into the pouring rain.

  4. Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    Beautiful post. I wish my kids could walk to school. Instead, I take what magic I can amid the back seat fighting and traffic.

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