Back to School with Ruby

Photo Credit: Photography by Angela Gross

“So were you planning on taking our pics this morning or what?” Laynie drops as I fly down Park Road trying to make it to the high school on time to let the older two out of the van. I jolt my arm at the reminder and spill my entire cup of coffee down my right arm and all over flower dress circa 1998 which has made it back in.

            “Shit!” I can’t help myself from letting it fly out.

            “Oh, I’m sorry I thought we weren’t saying that anymore, Mother, or do you get play by a different set of rules.” Andi pipes up from the passenger seat like an attorney during cross examination.

            “So, is the S-word back on the table, Mommy? Can I say shit too?” Austin chimes in from the third row as he shouts over his iPad and the radio.

            James laughs uncontrollably, “Just snapped that!”

            The minions are restless and anxious and late without 1st day of school pictures but thank the good Lord James Snap-chatted it!

            My arm still burning, while they now scream at each other. I have to raise my decibel twelve octaves to gain their attention. “Hey! That’s enough! Shut it down now!”

            The grumbles remain present, but the volume level lowered so now I have their attention. I must act fast before I lose my audience.

            “Okay. Shit is not on the table. I mean, no one can say the S-word. It was an accident, it slipped.”

            Right as the words leave my mouth, Counselor Andi, raises her hand to object and I cut her off before she has a chance.

            “And no, you do not get to make that mistake and get away with it. Use Sugar-foot or shenanigans but no S-word. Consequences still remain in place for those who do. Also, I know this morning has been a bit of SHENANIGANS, but I love you all and hope you have great first days back. Now this next red light I want everyone to squeeze in for a quick selfie. Andi get ready to take it.”

            The minions listen and grumbles cease. We have a moment of peace and the previous years of first days roll through my mind like a slide show when my van had more car seats than backpacks, when there were more tears than laughter, pigtails instead of iphones, nursery rhymes instead of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. It still amazes me how quickly I can go from psychotic to nostalgic with these four humans. Each year brings new challenges along with exciting joys. I try to stay in the moment and take mindful snapshots to hold in my heart. Those pictures are laced with emotion, and outweigh the ones from my FaceBook TimeHop. Clearly, I feel this way because I can’t remember to take first day of school pictures to post to Facebook for TimeHop to bring up later.

            I slowly creep toward the red light to give Andi plenty of time to snap the photo of our crew. Everyone smiles on the first attempt and with Andi’s approval and sends it to me, “its post-able, Mom.”

            I open my phone and glance at my sweet baby angels while I add this memory to my mental social media account. Lost in the moment then startled back to reality by a long, loud honk from the car behind us. I drop my phone and look in the rear-view to see none other than Kitty Jones in her bright and shinny Lexus SUV throwing her hands up to illustrate her annoyance with me. Before I can get moving down the road, Kitty whips around me and shakes her head as she drives by. Now, mind you, Kitty has twin boys in Laynie’s grade. They don’t have to be at school for another 45 minutes. I am still trying to get my high schoolers there on time and she is frustrated with me not moving fast enough? I can’t even.

            “She’s a freak.” Laynie continues to read while commenting on the situation. I don’t correct her. “And so are her sons.” She persists.

            “Okay, Laynie, that’s enough.” She tried me so I drew the line.

            “A spade is a spade, Mom. Bow ties to middle school? Mom still lays out matching outfits? That’s a problem.”

            Well, she had a point. “Still Laynie, name calling isn’t cool. Maybe you should just be grateful for a mother who lets you express yourself and your individuality.”

            She looks up from her book with her famous side-smile, “of course I am, Mom.”

            I give her a wink as we pull in on two wheels to the high school, barely enough time to come to a complete stop for James and Andi to jump out.

            In one swift motion of gathering her things, Andi barks out orders from her shotgun seat. “Littles, have a great first day. Laynie, don’t contradict Mr. Tolson until after your first paper is returned. He will hold it against you and you need written evidence of your intelligence. Austin, do not cuss at anyone today and hold the fart jokes until week two of school. Got it?”

            In unison, “Got it” Laynie and Austin reply.

            “Hey, don’t forget me.” I am holding my arms out for a hug. She pauses and I watch the thought cross her mind of getting out without hugging me goodbye. I feel the tears swell in my eyes, but even with the annoyed eye-roll Andi leans over, kisses me and whispers, “I love you, Mom.”

            “Love you too, sweet girl. Have a great first day.”

            James leans up from behind my seat, kisses and hugs me with no hesitation. “Love you, Mom, don’t get bored without me.” He laughs while he slides he sunglasses on and hops out of the van.  James has said that to me since his first day of pre-school. No tears. No problems. Just James.

            “Love you, baby, enjoy your day.”  

            There is no time for reminiscing. I have 22 minutes to get the littles dropped off and traffic is a nightmare over there. New construction provides too many people on a two lane road and an increase of road rage. I sit as I watch two light changes and not a single car move.

            “This is insane. I can see the school and yet I can’t physically get you all there because of this traffic.” I feel my blood boiling, but I try to remain calm. It’s the first day. They are trying to figure out everything. It’s fine. My mental mantra continues to soothe my discontent. Then I see it.

            “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me”, slithers out of my mouth like a villainous monster. The combination of road rage and infuriation run through my veins and my control floats right though my fingers off to a land, never to be heard from again. I spot Kitty Jones with her matching twins standing in front of the school sign with apple-shaped chalkboards posing for what I can only assume is their first day of school pictures. She had the nerve to honk at me and drive like a lunatic just to get to school early enough to capture her precious, picture-perfect moment while I am still sitting in this never-ending traffic jam. I just lose it.


            I lay on the horn and let out a scream for what felt like ten minutes but was actually more like ten seconds. It was such a release and I am out of breath. Laynie and Austin look at me speechless. I watched Kitty drop her phone, while her boys laughed. As she tries to gather herself, Kitty looked around searching for the source of what startled her, then we meet eyes. She cocks her head to the side, puts her arm on her hip, and shakes her head in a disapproving rhythm.

            I just roll down the window and wave, “Hey girl! Hope you all have a great year.”

            My smile warms my face with pride. The audience of back to school traffic was no concern of mine anymore. The van-selfie or the chalk-board-snap-shot. It doesn’t matter. The first day of school had come for us all. Let the games begin. May the odds be ever in your favor. (Wait…that was a different set of games). It was as if the gates of heaven opened up and cars started moving.

Layine asks “feel better?”

            “Yes, I do.”

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