Monday, September 15, 2008

sneaky, but not that sneaky

Our kids are going to a new school now. It’s very far away, but there are a handful of people that live in the city whose kids go to this school, so we kept our antennae up to see if any of them would be interested in carpooling. It just so happens that one of the teachers at the school lives just three metro stops away from us and we’ve managed to strike a deal with him: we pay a certain amount per ride and he will take them out and bring them back each day.

Last year, our school trek consisted of a simple fifteen minute walk. This year, getting to school is a little more involved. We walk to the metro, go three stops and walk to the driver’s house. From there, the kids have at least a thirty five minute drive to school. The first bit sounds easy enough, but believe it or not we have to allow thirty minutes to get it done, door to door. Not only does it take time for the kids to get to the driver’s house, but it also eats into mom’s or dad’s day.

Fortunately, the return trip home is not as time-consuming because the driver is kind enough to drop the kids off at the entrance to the metro, rather than make them walk to the metro from his house. This shortens the trip home by ten minutes—a big deal when you’ve been up ‘n’ at ‘em early in the morning. In spite of the shortened trip, however, it still takes time out of mom and dad’s day. Because of that, we’ve decided to teach the kids how to make the return trip home on their own.

At first, we thought we’d never do this because even though Meaghan is old enough to do it on her own, we didn’t feel it was fair to put her in charge of eight-year-old Nicolas. For one, Nicolas has had the habit of walking way ahead of everyone else and we thought Meaghan didn’t need the hassle of constantly having to chase him down. But, as the days passed, we began to see that they were getting along nicely, even though Nic still had the habit of walking ahead. But, one day I had an idea as to how we could cure Nic of his wandering ways. So we thought we’d give it a try.

Last Wednesday I prepped them. When I met them at the entrance to the metro at the end of the day, I explained to them carefully that on Thursday (the next day) they would be doing the trip home on their own—if they did a good job with my little training session. They were excited by that prospect.

So, I explained that they needed to be a team and I explained that teams stick together and look out for each other. They help each other. To explain it further I said, “You remember the Mighty Ducks?”

They smiled, “Yea!”

I said, “Well, you remember what they said? They said, ‘Ducks fly together’, didn’t they?”

They smiled more: “Yea. Ducks fly together. Like the Flying Vee!”

I said, “Yea. Just like that. Well, you guys are a team, just like the Ducks. And Ducks fly together. They look out for each other. So you two need to stay together.”

I could tell that got through to them (more specifically: Nic) because it worked. So, last Wednesday I walked behind the two of them while they led the whole way home without any instruction from me, side by side.

When they came to the turnstile to pass the metro ticket through, Nicolas decided he would help Meaghan by taking out the metro ticket and putting it back in Meaghan’s backpack so Meaghan didn’t have to take her backpack off and put it back on again (it’s heavy!). When they got through the other side and Nicolas had completed zipping up Meg’s backpack to secure the ticket, he looked up at me, beaming, “We were a good team there, weren’t we?!”

I smiled, and said, “Yes, that was good team work. You were really looking out for each other.”

The rest of the trip I trained them some more:

“Go to the front of the train if you can.”
“Remember, stay together. That’s good teamwork.”
“You guys are doing great.”

They got to the small (and only) street they have to cross and, like a good boy, Nic stopped about five feet from the curb, obeying the red light. Then, when the light turned green (he pointed out to me later), he made sure to still look for cars because “you never know if someone might disobey the signal anyway.”

On the home stretch at the top of our street Meaghan pointed out that they’d need keys to do this on their own. I said that was a good idea so I told her I’d put the keys in her backpack in the same place as where she kept the metro ticket.

Nic volunteered right away to help with that, too. When we got to the door, he dug them out and when they were done using them, he put them back and beamed again, “That was good teamwork!”

They really were a good team, so I told them that the next day they were going to do it all solo.

What they didn’t know was that they weren’t really going to do it solo. I was going to hide out, so they didn’t notice me. Then, when the time was right, I was going to follow along behind at a distance to see how they really did on their own.

For one, I wanted to see if they had just been on their best behavior on Wednesday because I was there supervising. Second, I wanted to make sure that they really did know the way and didn’t somehow “follow my lead” even though I was behind them the whole time that Wednesday. Third, I wanted to see how other people would treat them. I didn’t have serious concerns about this since it’s much safer here than in the States, but you just never could tell, so I wanted to see.

So, I concocted a plan: I would arrive a little early on Thursday to scope things out to find a good hiding place. While they were getting out of the car, I would position myself so they couldn’t see me. Then, when the time was right, I’d slip in behind them and follow at a distance.

This particular metro entrance was marked and housed by a rather large glass structure. I would say it was a structure of 15 yards (or meters) by 30 yards. Fairly large.

I thought, “Oh, this would be perfect to hide behind, except it’s made of glass.”

But then I noticed that the far front corner from the doorway was solid metal. “Perfect,” I thought. “I can hide behind here.”

Now, you need to know that the metro entrance is on the outer perimeter of a fairly large roundabout with three lanes. Because of that, it is customary for cars and busses to come trundling up to the curb to let people off for their connecting metro ride. It worked out perfectly for our situation because not only was the drop-off point right at the entrance to the metro but it was safe. What’s more, every day thus far the driver of the car was able to let them off right at the door side of the metro entrance, which made my particular hiding spot perfect because I was at the other end of the entrance structure (far enough away to avoid being spotted, but not so far away that I’d lose them).

So, last Thursday, there I was, waiting to spot the gray van coming down the facing road leading into the roundabout. The light they had to wait at was far enough away that the kids wouldn’t see me watching for them and that would give me time to get round the corner.

So…I spotted them, and hid myself away. Because I wanted Heather to share in the fun of the moment, I decided to pass away the time hiding by firing off a quick text message to Heather that says, “I c them.”

She sends me a text back saying, “Funny.”

I hid for about another minute, figuring the kids needed a little time to get out of the car and get situated, backpacks on, etc. Then, I peek around the corner, feeling like a spy, to conduct a status check and---

“Oh my gosh, WHERE ARE THEY??!!”

I look some more and don’t see them. Then, I think, “AND WHERE THE HECK IS THE VAN? IT’S NOT EVEN THERE! WHERE DID IT GO?”

I thought I must be seeing things. So, I figure they must have gotten out so quickly I didn’t notice it. I decide to walk over to a part of the metro entrance structure that’s glass so I can see the stairs inside to see if the kids are making their way down the staircase already.

Nope. Nobody there.

“Where the heck could they be? I could’ve sworn that was the van.”

I keep looking but still don’t want to be seen, so I’m crouching down, peering round the corner (cuz that’s not suspicious, is it?!—it’s amazing I didn’t get arrested!).

Anyhoo, I’m crouching, looking as best I can around the corner. I still don’t see them. So, I stand up and turn around thinking, “Well, they must not have come yet.”

I’m getting ready to send a text message to Heather telling her “false alarm”. When—

Meaghan and Nic are standing behind me about 15 feet away looking right at me with furrowed brows. I don’t think I have ever heard Meaghan more surprised: “Dad, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!”

She said it like I was the kid and she was the parent. I just paused, dumbfounded, “Uh--“

“We were supposed to walk home alone today. What are you doing here?”

It was a lame excuse, but she bought it: “Oh, yeah! I forgot!”

Turns out, there were so many cars and busses at the curb that the driver wasn’t able to pull up to the door, so he had to continue circulating to the farther curb to drop them off. But, because there were so many busses, I couldn’t see him pulling up BEHIND me. (Some spy I am, eh?) So, Meaghan and Nic caught their ol’ man with his pants down.

You can be sure on Friday I found a better hiding place. And this time, it worked.

All that to say: Meaghan and Nic, I’m proud of you two! You did it! And, I’m glad you trust your Dad, even when he does sneak around on you.

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