It was six minutes after the bell rang to signal the start of the school day. I know this because I had heard the bell myself as my daughter and I were rushing towards the intersection at the bottom of the hill from her school. We were late, and we weren’t the only ones on this cold, dark and rainy November morning. In this weather, everyone’s energy levels are flagging. But school starts promptly at the same time every day, whether you’d rather be at home hiding under a blanket or not, and so we rushed so as not to be too late.
As we rushed, my daughter looked at me seriously. “Mom,” she said, “I don’t think we’ll be late enough to need a late slip.” Clearly, she wasn’t concerned about lateness itself. It was the late slip she feared. The trip to the office, confessing your sins to the school secretary, carrying the little yellow piece of paper back to your teacher as an emblem of your shame – this was the fate she wanted to avoid. If there was no late slip to be feared, then there would be no reason to rushAbsorbed by the theme of lateness, my daughter told me about this one girl in her class who was so late one day she arrived just as the kids were heading outside for recess. I wondered if such extreme lateness would mean multiple late slips, or perhaps a scarlet L, dramatic measures for dramatic tardiness. But rather than give my words voice, I just said, “No, I think you’ll only be a little late. You won’t miss attendance.” And on we rushed, delayed slightly by the large boots my daughter was wearing to protect her feet from the wetness all around.
I know it was at least six minutes later, because even at top speed it takes us about five minutes to get from the corner to the front door of the school. We finally reached our destination where I kissed my daughter good-bye and paused to catch my breath and re-adjust my umbrella. Then, at a more leisurely pace, I headed back down the walkway from the school and on to the sidewalk, hugging the left side to make way for the line of cars still dropping off children. The principal was just starting to head back inside, her big, rainbow-coloured umbrella a shock of brightness on a dark day. “We’re going to have lots of lates today,” she said over her shoulder to the traffic monitor, as she walked away.As my eyes turned from the principal to the line of cars, I saw a woman get out of the driver’s seat and walk around to the side of her car to help her child out. She adopted the typical huddled position of a person standing bare-headed in the heavy rain – head low, shoulders hunched, brow furrowed. I know it well, having used it countless times myself over more than three decades of living in a city that locals affectionately refer to as Raincouver. It’s like your whole person expresses dismay at the sky and the large, cold, uncomfortable drops it is pelting you with.
As the mother opened the rear passenger door to let her son out, I spotted her foot perched precariously on the edge of the sidewalk, trying to avoid the little river of rainwater rushing down the gutter. Her black ankle boot was entirely unzipped. I wanted to stop and reach out, express the kinship of rushing mothers, but she was speaking to her child in a language that wasn’t English, and she was clearly in a rush, so I just moved a little further to the left to give mother and son a wide berth and continued on my way.
As I walked towards home, I thought about a brief moment earlier that morning. Faced with the choice of two pairs of boots – one zip-up and one slip-on – I’d opted for slip-on boots for speed. Satisfied, I whispered to myself, “Well chosen. Well chosen, indeed.”