Brrrrrrrriiiinnnggg, brrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnngggggg. Pause. A lot can happen in the quiet pause between a phone's ring sets. The whole world, for example, can shift on its axis, in those few seconds. A person can eloquently argue both sides of an internal debate about why she should or should not bend to the interruption from a number she doesn't recognize. She can forge an exploration of the whole universe of possibilities for what is suspended upon those wireless waves.
Brrrriiiinngggggg. Despite my conviction to ignore it, I answered, chirping in a conjured cheery voice, "This is Lucy."
"Hey, Mama," my fourth-grade daughter's voice responded sweetly.
"Hey there," I replied, surprised to hear her. Unspoken questions flooded me like I was the pants of a toilet-training 2 year-old. What is she doing with a cell phone? Whose number is this? Why is she calling me in the middle of a school day? I calmed myself and asked, "Where are you?"
"At school," she said. What's wrong? Why didn't the nurse call me herself? Is this normal protocol for a student to call home on a teacher's phone? Should I be alarmed by this? Why isn't she telling me what's going on?
"What are you doing?" I inquired, steadying my suspicions.
"Waiting for you. Are you coming get us?" she ever so politely requested, no urgency at all.
"Coming to get you? Why? What's wrong?"
What, I thought. Over? Then I glanced at the clock on my computer. 3:34. "Oh my gosh," I breathed into the phone, sudden clarity slapping me silly. "Oh my gosh. I can't believe I forgot you." I stopped. I corrected. "I didn't forget you. I was thinking really hard about something. I'm on my way right now."
Driving up to the school, I sank down behind the steering wheel. My two children, three teachers and the principal watched my minivan slowly roll to a stop. Joy over filmy car windows entered a complicated relationship with blossoming guilt. I never intended to give an excuse, but when I rolled down my window to say sorry, what came out was, "I don't know what happened. I was just really deep in thought."
"What kind of excuse is 'I was thinking?'" chided my husband when I told him about it.
He's right. The expression on the teacher's face when she escorted my children to the car and listened to my apology-strewn justification of negligence clearly indicated that she was expecting better from me; something at least as creative as squirrels in the attic chewing the electricals.
The excuse my fifth-grade son concocted made up for the one I didn't: "She's not coming," he told eager ears, "because she went to the new McDonald's without us."
I'm thinking maybe he can start riding the school bus he threw me under.
(Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)