Last week my oldest daughter became desperate and asked me for a favor. It was something my entire family had agreed that I should never be allowed to do: drive the grandkids to school. By myself.
My oldest granddaughter Hallie is 11. She lives less than a mile from me and I have never even been in the same vehicle taking her to school. This was going to be a big step in family trust.
“Don’t say anything to her,” my daughter warned. “In fact, don’t even mutter to yourself. Just drive her to the school and drop her off.”
Bright and early Tuesday I pulled into the driveway. Hallie, who is crushingly responsible, was waiting on the porch. Loaded down with book bag, iPod wires, backpack, and other stuff, she looked more like a Hobbit infantry than sixth grade.
She got into my truck, buckled up and we were off. Half a block from the house, she reminded me that I wasn’t supposed to say anything.
Me: “Yeah, I heard. How do you like school?”
Her: “It’s OK. I like it.”
Hallie’s school was only a mile away.
However, because 500,000 moms were dropping their kids off, this worked out to be roughly 40 minutes of stop and creep. We had a lot of time to kill.
I asked Hallie if her teachers ever hit her or made her stay after school for being late. She was incredulous. Of course they never hit her. Why would they hit her?
Over the next few minutes (during which we traveled something, like, 9 feet), I asked Hallie if teachers ever made her stand in a corner, wait for recess in a locked coat closet, hauled her down to the office by her hair or ear(s) or forcibly ejected her from school property for being tardy.
“No,” Hallie said. “My teachers never do those things. Did yours?”
Me: “Well, I went to this whole other school.”
Her: “Was it, like, you know, a pioneer school?”
Actually, it was more than a dozen “pioneer” schools. And the only time my parents drove me to school was when they discovered that I didn’t always arrive there when I walked. The rest of the time I got there by bus or death march.
Her: “You didn’t go to school because you didn’t want to?”
Me: “Well, sometimes they kicked me out.”
While we waited in a traffic jam, Hallie confided in me that she knew I hated school when I was a kid. Grammy had told her about my grades, summer school and alternative schools, and even spankings.
“Grammy says you hated school because you needed medicine but they didn’t have any in the olden days.”
“There was mescaline in high school.”
I didn’t remember the traffic being so bad at “pioneer” schools. When did kids start getting chauffeured? In 15 minutes, we had traveled a block.
In other cars, moms in zombie trances talked on cell phones, drank coffee, applied makeup and held small dogs. The vehicles started to resemble coffins, or a long line of desks for the overly compliant.
“Papa, if you didn’t like school, what did you learn?” Hallie asked.
“You really want to know?”
When she nodded, I jacked the truck into four-wheel drive, cut the line, drove over the curb, across the lawn, the wrong way through the parking lot, around the back of the school and up to a side door.
“Have a good day,” I said. “I love you.”
“That was SO cool,” Hallie said. “I wish I went to olden-days school.”
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.