I obey all rules except the ones my older brother makes up as we go. So when Coach rapped on the passenger-side car window, I already knew the words he was going to say. I rolled it down poised to hear "Mrs. Adams, we appreciate how every morning at carpool you pull all the way up to the cone instead of letting Sweet Precious out at the covered walkway like all the other parents do. Your cooperation with the elementary school's system makes morning carpool run smoothly and efficiently. The year has only just begun, but we've been talking about giving you an award."
My expectant smile faded when he told me, "You have a flat tire."
I stared, aghast, so he stuck his head farther in the window, giving himself a full view of all the litter in my car, and repeated, "Your back tire on this side is completely flat. There's pretty much no air in it." Sweet Precious got out and quickly walked down the sidewalk, up the covered walkway and to the door of the school, trying to anonymously retreat from the sound of the rim scraping asphalt as I eased forward and parked.
Waiting for rescue, I watched in my rearview mirror as other parents' Dear Darlings poured from operational automobiles. A long line of cars collected as each mom or dad let Dear Darling out at the covered walkway rather than pulling forward to the orange cone. I might have a flat tire, I gloated, but at least I follow the rules.
My phone rang. The screen displayed the name of the elementary school. How nice, I thought, they're calling to check on me.
"Mrs. Adams," the voice said, "Sweet Precious's shorts are not the proper length."
"We measured them," I stammered. "She's worn them to school already this year," I informed. "The principal just saw her get out of the car," I squeaked.
"If you want her to change," I compliantly remembered my rule about following rules, "I'll have her change. But I'm in the carpool area with a flat tire. I can't go anywhere until my help gets here."
Sweet Precious, wearing what we now understand to be patriotic plaid booty shorts that may as well have had the stigma of her name stamped across the backside in block letters, was sent out past the steady stream of children entering from the opposite direction. Awash with shame, she slunk to my listing, broken-down minivan.
My phone rang again. I was informed no aid would be coming. Sweet Precious in her patriotic plaid booty shorts and I in my mortification set out walking toward home.
When at last we returned and I presented Sweet Precious in the office in appropriate attire and rehashed the whole story, especially the part about having to go it on foot, I requested, in light of things, that Sweet Precious not be counted tardy. "But she is tardy," replied the secretary, flatly. "Most parents just bring a change of clothes for their child."
I wanted to shout, "Do you know who I am? I pull forward to the cone every morning in carpool line instead of insisting that Sweet Precious exit my auto at the covered walkway. I keep carpool running efficiently. I'm pretty sure I'll be getting an award. I'm a rule follower!"
Sweet Precious read all these words on my face and shrank when I asked that the principal please call me. Finally getting her tardy slip, she exhaled, "This has been the most embarrassing morning of my life."
Lucky girl. Her life is good. And bound to get better.
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.