Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Cross Me!

I live a 4-minute-and-22-second drive from my daughter's school. I know this because the drive from door to door takes exactly the amount of time as the song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (from the original motion picture soundtrack). I drop my son off on the way, so the commute from home to his school is even less than 4:22. It may not sound like a lot of time, but in those few ticks of the minute hand one can experience a whole day's worth of stress.

You might wonder what could possibly cause a relatively well-adjusted person to nearly self-destruct during a simple 4-minute-and-22-second drive. If you are indeed wondering, then you are fortunate enough not to have to encounter the same obstacle five days a week, rain or shine. More specifically, the same obstacle with a neon vest and octagon sign. You have never encountered The Elementary School Crossing Guard.

I am all for safety. I am the mom you might hear shrieking at her kids not to get run over in parking lots. I have been known to act as a human shield against unknown dogs at the park. I close schoolyard gates even if school isn't in session. And I am appreciative of the school district providing kindly retirees to monitor the crossing activities of students and related people.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Crossing Guard Training may focus too much on sign-holding techniques and the proper care for orange reflective sateen, and not enough time teaching Guards the nuances of getting people from Point A to Point B. My son has attended two of the three schools in our community. I have observed lead Crossing Guards (who have the plum assignment of crossing people into the main entrance of the school), substitute Crossing Guards, and side street Crossing Guards. I feel that this sampling of Crossing Guards gives me an adequate basis for my observations.

None of my city's Guards come equipped with folding chairs, a practice I have witnessed while driving through neighborhoods where there is apparently a more relaxed attitude toward crossing people. But being a lazy-yet-highly-productive person myself, I don't think comfort necessarily equates with lack of attention to one's task. Our Crossing Guards commit a greater sin than kicking back on the job--they are so intent on being active players in the school crossing arena, they end up gobbing up the whole system.

The Crossing Guard at the first elementary school my son attended was a perpetually perky chatterer who honored each season with holiday-themed hats and personally greeted each crosser. Because of her friendly ways, I learned early on to avoid her corner by taking a different route to school; trying to drive past her station when she was commenting on a child's desert habitat diorama (yes, while in the middle of the street) was a true lesson in patience, one that I failed every time. 

Fortunately, that Crossing Guard didn't have much to do because the PTA of that school was on overdrive and designated a team of Stay-At-Home-MBAs (SAHMBAs) to oversee the traffic and drop-off flow. Prior to the beginning of each school year, parents would get a memo from the PTA detailing the procedure for student drop-off. There were two entrances to the school, and each one was staffed with officious moms, complete with PTA lanyards, holding Starbucks travel mugs in one hand, and opening passenger-side doors with the other. The student's actual parent was to have no role in the disembarking of his or her offspring; only specially trained PTA officeholders were up to the task of opening the car door, unbuckling the child, and manipulating a bulging wheelie backpack from the back of a Prius.  These whirlwinds of credentialed efficiency were even known to zip jackets and pick up crumpled snack wrappers that blew out of the car with the child.  And remind harried working parents when it was Farmer's Market day (Thursday) so no family would be without organic chard for another week. At this school, drop-off had to be between 8:00 and 8:10--the gates opened at exactly 8 and were locked at 8:10 on the dot. Those PTA SAHMs got 500 kids and all their stuff in those gates in a 9:59 window. Pure poetry in motion.

Several years ago, we moved across town and my son began attending a different elementary school. This school has a more "crunchy" feel to it, with a PTA made up of fewer corporate types, and more academics, non-profit lawyers, and artists. Needless to say, the days of the military precision of school drop-off are gone, replaced by haphazard double-parkers, bicycle riders, and, inexplicably, families who walk to school even though they do not live across the street from the school itself. Truthfully, it is this last group that completely baffles me and, I must add, do the most for mucking up drop-off. 

I once Mapquested our distance from school. I believe it was somewhere in the vicinity of 1/2 a mile. I know we are .3 miles from Trader Joe's, because that was the biggest factor in buying our house, and the school is very close to TJs. I continue to be astounded that our neighbors--all of whom also hold down jobs--stroll to school with their children every day, rain or shine. Some drive to the general area of the school and walk. Not sure what that accomplishes, but the key here is that perfectly sane people who do not need to hoof it with their dawdling kids to school actually do. I don't know whether to admire them or build a more secure fence around our property. 

The only person who seems more confused dealing with people walking to school, however, is the Crossing Guard. The Crossing Guard of this school is an elderly man, who appears to be easily distractible--not a quality I personally would look for in a Crossing Guard for an elementary school. He holds up a line of a dozen cars in favor of someone walking a cute dog. Now, I like cute animals as much as the next person, but if your job is to cross 500 kids into a school within a 10-minute period (yes, the crunchy school has the same guidelines), then you need to keep your eye on the ball for the full 600 seconds. You are a football kicker whose only job is to kick the ball over the goal post. That is your moment to shine. So when it is that magic window from 8 to 8:10 am on a weekday (excluding Federal holidays, teacher furlough days, and "pupil free" days), you damn well better have an eagle eye out for those who are trying to get to school. 

Since this particular Crossing Guard most likely attended elementary school before the automobile was invented, he may not have a frame of reference what it is like to be a driver at the mercy of an unfocused and idiosyncratic guard. He doesn't appear to understand that it would be wise to heed the drivers, because a Range Rover can do a lot more damage than an ambulatory crosser, except maybe during the week of Science Fair, when students are bringing all sorts of chemicals and radioactive matter to school. Yes, it is sweet to see a grandmother crossing with a toddler on a leisurely morning stroll, but that family bonding moment comes at a high price for those who do not have time to wait for a 2-year-old to be cajoled aimlessly across the street. On a daily basis, I have to squelch the urge to honk, curse, or hurl a water bottle at the Crossing Guard, who never fails to cross form before function: Joggers with earbuds. Mothers with infants, but no older siblings in sight. If he could use the power of his position to stop the childless runner from crossing when there are 15 cars waiting, there might be fewer kids running for the schoolyard in a futile attempt to be on school property before the dreaded bell. There also might be fewer parents on medication due to the stress of the morning drop-off. 


  1. Haha! I love it. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My daughter is 8 months old and we live a 5 minute walk (I've timed it) from her elementary school. I'm slowly realizing that I'm going to have to leave her with the neighbour's daycare to walk to school with them, because that 5 minutes is going to be more like 30, whether I drive or walk.

    It's too bad, since I would have really liked to walk her there or back (in non-blizzard conditions, that is). But the school day is conveniently structured so that it starts late enough and ends early enough that I won't be able to, unless I take the whole morning or afternoon off work. Boo. I wish the school day was at least somewhat synchronized with an average work day.

  2. Hi! When my kids were 5 and 1, we lived in NY and strollers weren't allowed on the buses, so after work I would strap my baby into the stroller and walk 15 city blocks to take my son (who was quite the meanderer) to karate. That meant crossing 15 city streets and several avenues, being on the look out for cars backing out of driveways, avoiding skateboarders and cyclists--then an entire fight of stairs (no elevator) to get to the karate studio. I was so stressed by the time we got there (and I have to be on time or I go slightly nuts!) that I had veins pulsing in parts of my body that probably don't even have veins! I was a crazed maniac! I now try to outsource as much of the walking as possible.... Thanks for posting! Best, Karen

  3. This particular crossing guard firmly reprimanded me one morning in such a way as to ruin the rest of what could have been a pleasant day.

  4. Hi, Neighbor! So, it isn't just me and my anti-authority streak that irks those whose job it is to keep order! The only thing that keeps me from the school-drop-off equivalent of road rage is that I have a very recognizable car, and fear retribution... especially since the police are always lurking, ready to ticket those of us in a hurry... See you soon! K