I was in the middle of a lesson with the seventh grade when the classroom phone rang. It was the nurse from my son’s school. Doyle was throwing up and he needed someone to come get him.
My father, who works five minutes from the school, agreed to go. When he got to the health suite, it was already dismissal time and Doyle had been sent to get his things.
He never came back.
My father waited. The nurse waited. Still, Doyle didn’t show up. The nurse went to the classroom, and Doyle wasn’t there. My father drove to my house, thinking my son was confused and had walked the four blocks home like it was a regular day.
No Doyle there.
My father got worried. Had Doyle fainted or fallen over somewhere? Our neighbor Roddy arrived home at that exact moment and offered to help him look for Doyle. Then my daughter arrived. They went back to the school.
That’s when they found him. There in the grass behind the school, a group of boys were playing soccer. As always Doyle was in the goal, deflecting the other kids’ shots.
I mean, it had been a good 30 minutes or so since he had thrown up, right?
An honest mistake had happened: My father thought he was supposed to get Doyle from the health suite, and Doyle thought my father was picking him up at the dismissal door.
“But when you saw your grandfather wasn’t there, you should have gone back to the main office,” I told Doyle.
That’s not how a 10-year-old mind works. If a kid has a few extra minutes and somebody else has a soccer ball, well, what’s the point of going to the main office when a few shots could be saved?
This is how a mother’s mind works: Doyle went without his phone for the rest of the week. He didn’t use it to call his grandfather that day, so he didn’t need it to play games.
Last week I answered the phone at school and there was a different school nurse on the line – a nurse from one of the high schools many of our students attend after they graduate.
The nurse wanted me to know that she was sending one of our girls home, because the child was so worried about her little sister and couldn’t stop crying.
“What happened to her sister?” That girl was a student at our school, but in a grade I didn’t teach. Plus, I had been out on a graduate support visit – I wasn’t up to speed on the morning’s occurrences.
The two girls had left the house together earlier that morning. One got on an MTA bus to get to high school, while the other an MTA bus to come to our school. The problem was the younger girl never arrived at Sisters Academy. The parents had been called and then the older sister. Nobody knew where she was.
For most of the morning we waited for news. Our school secretary — who has endless reserves of both kindness and calm — sat with the father the whole time. He tried his best not to sob, but it was hard.
I was worried. I had been to their neighborhood two years before and it had made me nervous. There were a lot of folks were milling around with nothing apparent to do. I was used to tough neighborhoods — abandoned buildings, blue light security cameras, and ever present cop cars. But the loiterers seemed more threatening.
Please, I prayed, don’t let anything bad happen to this child.
We waited and waited. It was almost lunch time, four hours after a student would have safely arrived for the school day. Finally there was a phone call from the lost child herself. She was OK.
She had fallen asleep on the bus and gone all the way to the end of the line, all the way out in Glen Burnie, far away from our school, and a long ways away from her home.
But she was all right.
And smart, too. When she woke up and realized what had happened, she got off the bus and went into a Patient First. She knew they helped people there, so she figured they would help her, too.
“Maybe this will finally teach her to get a good night’s sleep,” one of the teachers said.
More importantly, maybe both of these children will realize how many people were looking for them and were worried about their safety.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes only one child to raise the village’s concern.