Kindergarten Memoir

If you think back with me a bit, you’ll remember the post where I wrote from a position of grief, disorientation, and shell-shock: Elijah had just started kindergarten. He moved to leave our family every day on a big bus for a long day away with strangers.  What began that momentous day in August, ends this Friday. It’s been a very good year.

Kindergarten gave Eli the gifts of a caring and creative teacher, a community of kids that expanded his cultural and social awareness, exercises in discipline, the ability to learn to read and grow as a reader, (reading! what a world changing phenomenon), a routine that allowed him to anticipate and enjoy all the different facets of an elementary school day, chances to play outside, have a speaking part in the kindergarten musical, have Drew come serve as a WatchDog (a program to have male rolemodels serve in the schools), create in art, and come home with stories of adventures he had and information he’d accumulated. He has been well-led and loved, encouraged, and challenged. I’m very grateful for the men and women at his school who work as a team to ensure every kid’s health and maturation as a learner.

There is a story I’ve told many times but never written down that demonstrates the love and care of Eli’s kindergarten community. The story happened over a month ago but fits well here…at the end of the year…in looking back and being grateful.

I went on a field trip with Eli’s class on Wednesday April 17th. A great opportunity to watch him interact with friends and see Mrs. Crawford’s organization and amazing calm in full force! Gayle had Andi and Oakley for the day, enjoying a relaxing, post tax-season day with her youngest grandkids. After having lunch with E back at school, I went to donate blood, appeasing those persistent callers, truly believing in the life-saving value of the exercise, and knowing it’s not something I can do with my kids in tow.

As I sat down to give blood, I knew the timing would be close as I needed to be back home to pick up Eli from the bus. I gave as fast as I could- long squeezes on the pumping ball- and didn’t pass out (which has occurred two times in the past 5 years for me there!)  Rushing through my recovery with a quick bag of pretzels, I texted Gayle to let her know I would be going home to get Eli and then coming to pick up Andi and Oaks. I drove down Barry Road checking the clock. Eli gets home around 3:50pm from the bus. I pulled into my driveway at 3:49. I was relieved to not see him standing woefully at the locked front door. I was able to park in the drive way and take a load of stuff inside before coming back out to the van, at which point I saw Eli running down the hill from the bus stop.

We high-fived in the driveway and reminisced briefly about the field trip from earlier. I told him we were off to pick up his siblings and asked if he needed anything inside or just wanted to wait outside for me to run in and use the bathroom. He opted to sit on the stoop and I took his backpack inside with me. I came back out shortly and we hopped in the car.

Taking advantage of a rare opportunity to spend time with just Eli and to shop with 1 instead of 3 kids, Eli and I went to Hyvee before heading to Gayle’s house. Eli got a free cookie from the bakery and we had a grand time of it at for 20 minutes together. When we arrived at Gayle’s house it was 4:40pm.

We walked in cheerily and saw Gayle, holding Oakley, playing memory with Andi, and talking on the phone in a slightly frantic voice- just a normal GG day! She looked up when she heard the door close and said, “Oh. They’re here. They’re here!” I looked around, confused, wondering, “Who’s here?” She hung up exasperated and said, “Linds, oh my, oh my. There has been lot going on. Oh boy….Everyone is looking for Eli!” Confused, I said, “Eli? This Eli? Looking for him?”

Unraveling the mystery…

Gayle had been on the phone with Drew. Drew had gotten a phone call around 4pm from the secretaries at Eli’s school. They called Drew because they had been trying to call me and were receiving no answer- I had put my phone on silent for the blood donation hour and had not turned it back to full volume or checked it at all since I’d left the blood center.

But why were they calling us?!…

The bus driver had dropped Eli off at his stop and done her customary loop around our neighborhood which brings her back by our cul-de-sac. On her loop back by, she saw Eli sitting on the front steps. She thought that seemed odd, so finished her route and drove back to check on him. When she pulled the bus into our cul-de-sac that second time, he was no longer on the steps. The house looked closed and empty and she began to think no one had been home to receive Eli and that now, he was missing. She walked around to look for him and then called on her radio to report that a student had not been able to get into his house and she was worried about his whereabouts now.

The school immediately took action to try to locate me and ascertain Eli’s location. They called Drew after calling me 3 times and leaving messages. Last Drew knew, I was at the Community Blood Center- I had texted him that the donation was successful while I sat at the recovery table. He also knew I have a seedy past with that place- on one occasion I passed out at the pretzel station and crashed from a chair to the floor- he was called to come get me that day. After calling my phone uselessly (it was on silent, in the bottom of my purse, at Hyvee, where Eli and I were relaxed and enjoying ourselves), Drew called the blood center and his mom. He wanted to make sure I had made it out of there ok and wasn’t passed out and crashed on the side of the road. The blood center would not release knowledge of my whereabouts, dutifully following their HIPA convictions. Now Gayle was involved and a little worried that perhaps she had misunderstood me and that she was supposed to have been at my house to meet Eli. She read and re-read my text message and Drew decided she should stay put with the other kids.

Drew called our neighbor and friend Tom and asked him to get involved. He explained that we have an arOnto the Big Yellow Busarrangement with Eli in the event that he finds the house locked when he gets off the bus. Eli knows he’s could go to a couple of houses of neighbor kids to wait for me to get home. Operating under the assumption that I was not there to get him, Drew asked Tom to go knock on doors to see if Eli had gone to the contingency plan houses. Tom was graciously willing and went to a couple of houses where he met short, 7 year olds who affirmed that yes, they knew Eli Osborne, but no, he wasn’t at their house. After the second house, Tom saw a man in dress pants and a tie also knocking on doors. By his outfit or demeanor, Tom determined the man was probably Eli’s principal.

Indeed! The principal of Eli’s school had dropped everything and driven over to our neighborhood to try to find a proposed missing student. The neighbor kids were ecstatic and surprised to see Mr. Fitzmorris on their front steps, but also a bit confused as to why he was there, asking about Eli.

In the middle of the cul-de-sac, the bus driver sat worried to the point of tears. She talked to Drew through Tom’s phone where Drew heard panic and worry in her voice.

A note about Miss Misty– Eli’s bus driver. This woman has been wonderful all year. She is friendly to Drew and me, has always been interested in seeing Oakley when he makes it out there, gives Eli an extra treat for Andi if she’s passing out a Christmas sucker to her whole bus, and in general, makes sure that Eli is safely taken to and from school. Eli speaks highly of her in how she runs her bus, and at one point brought home a “Bus 68” rap a 4th grader had written- one whole stanza was dedicated to how cool Miss Misty is.

In tears, on Tom’s phone that day, she told Drew, “I have 5 kids of my own, I just care so much. I’m worried not knowing where Eli is!”

As the principal walked my neighborhood, Tom stood on the steps of a bus with a stricken driver, and Drew left his office to start driving my path from the blood center to home- wanting to ensure I wasn’t crashed on the side of the road in a post donation pass out, and I finally walked into Gayle’s house with Eli.

She was on the phone with Drew and was able to tell him we were there- safe. Confused and dumbfounded, but safe. Drew then called all the involved parties- the bus driver, the school staff, and Tom- to give them the good news: Eli was safe. With his mom.

For about 45 minutes, there was worry, panic, confusion, and action taken to protect, pursue, and procure my child. A whole community was mobilized on mission, without question, to ensure Eli was ok. The principal would later tell us, he believes in taking action in doing whatever he can do as soon as possible. He would have done the same thing again- its not worth sitting around in his office if he could be out, trying to help. The bus driver believed it was odd that Eli wasn’t met after the bus but didn’t want to take any chances. Tom left his own wife and kid to walk up the hill as quickly as he could- not fully explaining where he was headed as he left in a hurry. So many people were willing to do whatever they could, right away.

The caveat to this story is that, Eli was fine the whole time. With me, at HyVee and in the car. It was just a misunderstanding and collection of coincidences that created confusion- he did sit on the steps for a bit and then disappear…not with a stranger or to be lost though, just with me, to run errands.

Poor Drew was pulled out of a work day to spend almost an hour in waves of worry, questioning and rethinking what he thought could be happening. Gayle was forced to hold it together for Andi who was wondering why she was on the phone so much all of a sudden.

Whew! What a hubabaloo! And what a blessing- that so many people care so deeply for Eli. As the stories of Sandy Hook and Plaza Towers Elementary have overtaken the news reels this year, the vulnerability of children and the sacrificial love and leadership of school staffs have been affirmed. Our family experienced on a small and non-consequential level the clash of care and tragedy. I cannot imagine the pain and power of other families as their student’s life and their school’s community of care met on such a macro level.

For us, it ended in gratitude  and relief. He was OK the whole time.  The following morning, Drew, Eli and I went to the bus stop together with a card and flowers- wanting to thank Miss Misty for caring so much and taking action when she felt like she should. When she opened the door of the bus that rainy morning, she looked right past Drew, me and the flowers, to Eli, and said, “Elijah. I am SO happy to see you.” She wasn’t able to fully put the worry away until she saw him, whole, present, and bounding onto the bus, the next day.

In his own words, a kindergarten memoir (“the French word for memories about kindergarten, Mom”), celebrates that he learned to read, loved “sieins” (science) the best, and right now wants to grow up to be a ninja.

I celebrate all Eli’s growth and his hard work. We celebrate this year- the people he’s gotten to bless and who have been such a blessing to him.

And we really, really hope Miss Misty is back on our route again next year…ready to take Andi on that big bus to school with such care and compassion as well!





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