I snapped pictures of my kids on Thursday morning. It was, of course, the morning their hair looked the nuttiest, and on this day of all days, they decided to smile like Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes.” We then all panic-speed-walked down the road, only to realize that we needed not rush at all. Before us was complete chaos. Hordes of people standing at a gate with one tiny entrance as children entered the school one by one and teachers directed them to their rightful classrooms.
Ah, the first day of a new pandemic school year. It was pure mayhem. The teachers were all doing their best…sweaty, stressed. The beloved school custodian was drenched and yelling commands at the long stream of cars that waited in the drop-off line. I tried to make a joke to him…he didn’t laugh. Instead he told me about how someone had left their bike trailer with a kid inside it unattended where a car could have smashed right into it. I decided to use my better judgement and not make a “Why did(n’t) the bike trailer cross the road?” joke; I just looked over at where he pointed. Standing in the school parking lot as we waited were probably 30 people who couldn’t fit in front of the school.
When I was backpacking in China 12 years ago with my husband, we were crossing the border to Vietnam. We wanted to do things as cheaply as possible, as we were…well, backpackers — pinching every penny and spending a lot of time wondering if we really needed a room with no cockroaches (We didn’t. They mostly stuck close to the walls.). Anyway, we crammed into a bus with a bunch of locals and got to the border crossing.
Everyone got out of the bus in a mob and we all poured into a small portable. We, the only English speakers, had absolutely no idea what was going on. We suddenly found ourselves squished in the building, being pushed and shoved, so we started to push and shove ourselves. Everyone had their passports in their hands above their heads…so, we did the same (when in Rome and all that…). The next thing we knew, our passports were grabbed and we went out of the building and waited. We weren’t a hundred percent sure who had taken our passports or if we’d even ever see them again. China was pretty cool and the last place we’d stayed before our passports were taken had AC and no roaches; we joked that we could probably stay there forever. Then, like it was the most normal thing in the world, a stack of passports came out and voila, there were ours, stamped and ready to go. We got onto a golf cart and crossed into Vietnam.
It was bizarre. It was disorienting. It was yesterday at school pick-up.
I got back to the school in the afternoon and there was the same mob of people from the morning. Some kids were standing in nice, neat lines on the other side of the gate. Parents were waving and yelling, crowding in to see their little angels after their first day in real life school. I became part of the mob and waited. And waited. Then, I saw a woman shove in front of everyone and collect her child after telling the gatekeeper the child’s name. I saw others do the same. As the masses began to clear, my child was sent to me and we made our way back through all the people together. Only instead of a passport stamp, she had her “First Day of School” headband, a good way to let me know that yes, it was over. It had really happened.