How not to get to school

September 8, 2004

Today was Xandie's first day of school. We had already visited the European school three times, once to beg them to let Xandie in, once to have her tested for English skills and first-grade readiness (which resulted in the teacher suggesting that perhaps she should be in second grade, a question which is still open at this moment), and once, yesterday, to meet the parents association and get a trolley pass.

There is a special system for getting kids to school safely. There is a special tram that carries only kids and teachers and goes straight to the school. For the first month, kids in the first three grades have to wear a sign with their name, tram line, and stop. Pat carefully wrote all that information on Xandie's backpack. We were in place well ahead of time.

There weren't many kids waiting. This isn't a heavily residential area. Pat spotted one mother and son and suggested that they were probably waiting for the same train, but (as usual) I was reluctant to approach a stranger, and (as usual) Pat was inhibited by her lack of German. Just then tram #4 came. I don't see any teachers! said Pat. There must be another one that's special.

I looked at my watch. It was the right tram number and the right time. I saw some young teens, obviously doing schoolwork. This has to be the train! I said. You'd better ask the driver, replied Pat. I hopped on the train. The driver was behind a wall, with curtains up. I didn't want to step away from the doors while Pat and Xandie were outside. The doors closed. I pushed the open button and told them to get on. No, said Pat. I'm sure another one will come along. The doors closed again, and this time they wouldn't respond to the button. The tram pulled away from the stop. I knew Pat hadn't brought her phone.

The next stop was only 2 blocks away. What to do? I decided we were better off together; there was another train in 10 minutes that would get to the school before class started. But would Pat get on the next train so she could join me? Probably not. I hopped off and walked back. I thought I could see Xandie in the distance. The trains that were passing me were all heading to other places.

When I got closer, Pat yelled, You took the wrong train! When I disappeared, Pat had asked the other mother for help and found that she had been dealing with the system for three years. It turns out that the train to school is an express with a special number. It had been listed on the schedule page, but I hadn't seen it because I had focused on the familiar tram number that we had taken on our other visits. A few minutes later the #17 showed up, this times with lots of kids and teachers, and we put Xandie on. Pat tried to tell a teacher that we had written the train information on the backpack. Ich verstehe nicht, was the reply. Ich spreche kein Englisch. She shuffled Xandie off to a seat, the doors closed, and she was gone. No time for goodbyes. I hope she didn't get upset; she sure looked tiny and lost. With luck, the teachers will put her on the right tram in the afternoon. If not, well, she knows what her stop looks like and Pat will be there to meet both trains.

When we got home, Pat said, Is this what it's going to be like when we send her off to college? I hope not. I don't need to wind up on a plane to Tahiti while Xandie and Pat are flying off to Cambridge.

Well, maybe Tahiti wouldn't be so bad.

© 2004, Geoff Kuenning

This page is maintained by Geoff Kuenning.