First, a rant:
Washington's state constitution says, "[i]t is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders..." (Article XI, Section 1).
We had one federal holiday and three and one-half snow days last week. Caitlyn went to school for a grand total of 2 hours.
We were scheduled to have a school holiday this Friday (I'm not sure why), but that has now been canceled. School will be in session on Friday as a make-up day for one of the snow days last week. If you've already made plans to do something else with your day off, it's time to cancel those plans.
Somehow, though, it still made sense to Those Who Decide that today would be a half-day. This half-day was scheduled in mid December and was not part of the previously published district calendar because it was determined more recently that the district needed a furlough day. The district is so short of the necessary funds that it felt it best to shut down for half a day.
I think this is a clear case of the State failing in it's "paramount duty". Not to mention a bit stupid. If we can cancel a planned holiday to make up for a snow day, why not cancel a furlough to make up for the snowed out half-day from last week?
So there was a half-day at school today, regardless of how inscrutable the decision might be. And we'd arranged for Caitlyn to go home with a friend and have some unstructured social time.
But the friend was late to school and Caitlyn assumed this meant her friend was absent. If her friend was absent, she couldn't very well go home with her, now could she? Caitlyn didn't turn in her note from home with the special end-of-day instructions. When she discovered at lunch time that her friend was indeed at school, she thought it was too late to turn in her note.
So she got on her usual bus, albeit three hours early, and came home. She planned to ring the doorbell, since she knew we weren't expecting her, explain how her friend wasn't there at quiet time and then have Mama walk her to her friend's house.
Which is a beautiful plan.
Except that Ian and I went out to lunch.
I suppose this is a common enough thing to happen to a parent. It's just never happened to me. I don't even remember something like this happening to me as a kid (although my memory of being a kid is admittedly spotty - I've been going on 45 since I was about 12, I think - and my mother may have a different story).
When the friend's mother called to let me know that Caitlyn wasn't where she had expected her to be, Ian and I were at least 30 minutes away from home. We stood outside the restaurant, both of us on our phones, trying to find someone closer than us. There weren't nearly enough numbers in my phone to try; all of them took too long to go to voicemail. I hung up on a lot of voicemail greetings. I thought about heading for the train station and starting home, but that would have put me underground for half the trip home, where my phone wouldn't work. Still, I kept almost starting for the station since standing outside the restaurant, making phone calls, was driving me crazy. I couldn't possibly be doing enough. Where was Caitlyn? Which friend from the bus would she have gone home with when she couldn't get in at home? What was I going to tell her when I found her? How was I going to make this, this betrayal of my Mom Duties, better?
Caitlyn was found by her friend's mother and by her aunt in our backyard, about 15 minutes after she'd gotten off the bus. She made a good choice, staying put, when no one answered her at the front door. I didn't mean to cry when she got on the phone, since I figured she was already probably freaked out enough, but of course, I did. Not a lot. I managed to tell her I was sorry, so sorry, that she'd done the right thing staying near the house, with my voice only wavering a bit. By then, she'd remembered that we go out to lunch on Tuesdays and was curious where we were. Not just what part of town, but which restaurant and what did we eat and was it any good? We'd had giant burritos, I told her, and she'd done the right thing, and I was sorry, and she should go have her playtime with her friend and I'd see her later when I came to pick her up.
Then I hung up and sobbed.
It's hard, even now, at the end of the day, to let go of the guilt. I wasn't where my daughter needed me to be, when she needed me. It's completely impractical, but I can't help thinking that I shouldn't have gone to lunch today, on furlough day, when things were Not Normal.
I'm familiar with the idea that, as a parent, inevitably, at some point, I'm going to let my child down. I didn't expect it to happen so soon (which probably also means I get to do it again and again in the coming years). And I didn't expect it to break my heart.