I was taking Little C. to school the other day when we ran into one of her first-grade teachers, about 200 meters from the school gates. She offered to take C. the rest of the way so I could go home. Naturally, I agreed. C. said “Goodbye Mrs… I mean mum” and off they went. So did I, in the opposite direction, thinking how wonderfully perfect Mrs. K. was. It lasted for about a second and a half.As I turned the corner to the street that would take me to my usual bus stop, Mrs. K. transformed. She was no longer the nice lady she was pretending to be. It was all an act. Mrs. K. was in fact a member of a possibly international criminal group that kidnapped children to sell them into slavery or prostitution or why not both.
Mrs. K only said she would take C. to school but she wouldn’t. She would think up some reason to divert her and lead her away from the school and into the lair of the criminals. And we would never see our daughter again.
By this point in the scenario my brain was throwing up at me I was ready to turn on my heels and go check if the kid had reached her classroom. I resisted the urge but barely. The scenario continued with a plausibility check: was it plausible that Mrs. K, the woman who literally held everyone in my daughter’s class by the hand while they laboured through their first letters and books, the woman who always had a kind word for everyone and almost never raised her voice, was a kidnapper?
Of course it was. Is there a better cover for a kidnapper with connections in an international child-trafficking group than an elementary school teacher? There isn’t and there is nothing that can change my mind on that. The final verdict of my brain stated that the scenario was plausible.
It was, however, quite a bit unlikely, which part of me knew without the shadow of a doubt. Not that this knowledge helped. By the time I reached the bus stop I was having to tell myself deliberately and slowly that I was being insane and that I could blog about it and then forget about it. It was just one of the tricks my brain played on me from time to time because it hated me.
Okay, if I’m perfectly honest, the fact that I was deep in the clutches of my thriller manuscript, racking my brain for the best way to connect the dots I already had, may have had something to do with my temporarily increased propensity for horror scenario-building. Re-watching Breaking Bad might also have contributed. I’m not saying it did, but it might have. Culprits were easy to find.
By the time I got home and started work I was feeling a lot better as reality — with my eager help — continued to reassert itself. I decided I could use a partial brain transplant and took a minute to lament the fact I would never get one. I debated internally whether I was or wasn’t a helicopter parent, concluding that there was evidence pointing to “yes”. People leave their third-graders to walk to school alone and what do I do? Suspect Mrs. K. of being a kidnapper just because I let her take C. the last 200 m to school.
This raised the fascinating question of what exact kind of hell my life — and C.’s life — will be in five years. Even without a lot of effort I could see it would be a great big one, whatever exact kind it was going to be. More fascinating questions followed, the star among them, of course, “How did we get here?” You never notice it, slipping down the hill of parenting anxiety, only feeling it once you hit the freezing mud of terror at the bottom.
It’s not all depressing, though. In hindsight it tends to be funny, as a lot of things are. It also tends to be inspiring: I have the kernel of a potentially good crime story that — and this is important — it would be therapeutic to tell. Getting it out of my system would help, I’m sure. The only problem is I already have a work in progress plus a work in waiting for editing. I’m too busy to worry about highly improbable threats for my child and this shall be my mantra henceforth, which is one of my favourite words.
P.S. C. called after her first class to ask what those cherry tomatoes were doing in her sandwich box. I said they were a surprise for her. What I didn’t say was “Oh, thank gods, you’re in school!” Then I told my Skype friend group chat she was safe and sound at school. One friend said “Not to be the bad guy but don’t you think that’s something kidnappers would make her do to win more time before you realise something was wrong?” I have great friends. Always thinking about me. Now this story has to be written. Again, because it has been written a thousand times already by millions of parents. Parenting is fun!