The Oh So Feisty One didn’t forget her pencil. But that didn’t stop Smartmom from stealthily following her to school last week like a maternal James Bond.
You see, OSFO left the house at 8:15 am, walked around the corner to pick up a schoolmate, and walked to school.
All by herself.
It was quite a moment for Smartmom and she didn’t quite know what to do. First, she got back into bed with Hepcat and they snuggled a bit. But, alas, Hepcat had worked all night and went to bed at 5 am; he was in no mood for that voodoo that they used to do.
Smartmom did tell him about OSFO’s amazing feat. “Can you believe it? She got herself dressed, ate breakfast, did her hair, and left the house.
All by herself.
Zzzzzz. Hepcat was too tired to appreciate the milestone. Smartmom felt euphoric, but also a little unsettled. She threw on some jogging clothes and sauntered, yes, sauntered up Third Street toward Seventh Avenue.
No, she wasn’t going to make sure that OSFO and her friend arrived at school. That would be so tacky. Of course they got to school.
All right, it did occur to Smartmom that something COULD happen to a couple of 10-year-old girls on their way to school.
Was OSFO properly trained in self-defense? Would she know the difference between a nice adult and an adult who, say, wanted to kidnap her?
You can’t blame Smartmom for being worried. OSFO’s her little girl and it’s a parent’s duty — and right — to worry about the safety of her child.
Take Smartmom’s dad, Groovy Grandpa. He was a little worried the first time that Smartmom (then Smartgirl) took public transportation all by herself to elementary school.
Smartgirl was only 9 years old and New Lincoln, a private school, was located on Central Park North and 110th Street. The trek from West 86th Street to East Harlem is a long one for an innocent tween.
And don’t forget: this was back in the late 1960s, when New York really was dangerous. Still, Smartgirl was super-excited about going to school all by herself. Boy, did she feel independent. Boy, did she feel like a big kid.
Understandably, she was more than a little annoyed when Groovy Grandpa decided to follow the 86th Street crosstown bus through the Central Park transverse on his three-speed (which he often rode to his job at the advertising agency).
Grrrr. Smartgirl smoldered in the back seat of the bus as she watched her dad in his tweed jacket and jeans steer his bike behind the bus.
At Madison Avenue, she got off the bus to switch to another bus that would deliver her within steps of her school.
“Well, I guess I’ll head downtown to the office,” her father said nervously.
Smartgirl was relieved. She couldn’t wait to be rid of her hovering dad so she could really do this getting-to-school-on-her-own-thing already.
“Remember, you take the 2A, 3, or 4 bus,” he reminded her.
“I already know that, Dad. Bye,” Smartgirl said rolling her eyes.
Smartgirl couldn’t contain her excitement (mingled with fear) as she watched her father head downtown on his bike. Riding the bus uptown was a dream come true. She stared out the window as the neighborhood changed from elegant Upper East Side apartment buildings and stores to the high rises of Mt. Sinai Hospital and housing projects. Finally, the bus arrived at the corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. Smartgirl got out with all the other schoolkids and walked into the building.
Mission accomplished. Smartgirl had succeeded in getting herself to school on not one, but two city buses. What a high.
While Smartgirl waited in the lobby until it was time to go upstairs, she heard a slight racket at the front door. Turning around, she saw her father carrying his bike into the building.
She was mortified.
“You forgot your pencil,” he said sweetly while holding a pencil in his hand. Face flush red with embarrassment, Smartgirl ushered him out the door as he told her that he’d found the yellow #2 in the basket of his bike.
She could see through his pathetic ruse. Oh the nerve.
Smartmom thought of this moment the other morning as she spied on OSFO in the PS321 backyard where the third- through fifth-graders line up.
What a nice surprise: there was OSFO and her friend standing on line. They looked so cute, but when OSFO spotted Smartmom, she made an angry “get out of here gesture” with her hand. Her facial expression said: Scram.
As Smartmom well knows, hell hath no fury like a child, whose independence has been questioned by a parent.
But Smartmom was relieved to see her little baby safe and sound. As she exited the school’s backyard, OSFO ran up to her.
“What are you doing here?” she screamed.
“I have a PTA meeting,” Smartmom lied. “I have to be in the lobby at 9 am.”
OSFO was dubious. She was right to be!
Forty years later, Smartmom and Groovy Grandpa still laugh about the You-Forgot-Your-Pencil incident. Even Hepcat and the kids know the story backwards and forwards.
In Smartmom’s life, “I forgot your pencil” has become shorthand for the love-infused worry a parent feels for a child. That bit about the pencil may have been a ruse, but it was Groovy Grandpa’s way of trying to protect Smartmom’s burgeoning sense of independence.
But that doesn’t let Groovy Grandpa (or Smartmom) off the hook. Groovy Grandpa lied to Smartgirl about the pencil, just like Smartmom lied to OSFO about the PTA meeting.
Sadly, Smartmom couldn’t come up with anything as clever or memorable as his line. Then again, she’s not the award-winning advertising copywriter who came up with slogans like: “Aunt Jemima, what took you so long?”
Buddha knows, what Groovy Grandpa and Smartmom did wasn’t about their kids at all. It was about their own anxiety and guilt about letting their kids go. Parents do plenty of misguided things.
Take Dumb Editor. When he’s with his daughter, Cover Girl, he acts like there’s no one else in the room (or in the world, even). But sometimes he worries if Cover Girl will get so accustomed to the focus that she won’t be able to deal with people who don’t give undivided attention.
Sure, parents do screwy things. But most of the time they do it out of love.
You forgot your pencil. Now that’s something Smartmom will never forget.