I pull into the parking lot just as the first crackle of lightning flickers above, a silvery shard in a darkening sky. In the five-minute commute, the clouds have gone from gray to gunmetal. We’re in for a doozy.
I press the steel buzzer by the front door of the building.
“How can I help you?” a voice blares from the speaker.
“I’m M.’s mom.” I raise my voice over a boom of thunder. “It’s my first day volunteering in Mrs. _______’s class.”
“I’m opening the door,” she says, and I hear a heavy click.
“It’s so dark out there I couldn’t see it was you, Dana,” the attendance secretary says. “They’re out herding the kids off the playground. That storm’s coming fast.”
I wait outside the empty classroom as kids trickle in.
One boy wipes away tears, his nose and cheeks a hectic shade of red. He’s walking as fast as his legs will carry him.
“It’s okay, Henry,” a boy says, rushing to catch up. “It was just lightning. It’s okay.”
“But I don’t have a raincoat,” Henry bleats, using his jacket sleeve to slick away tears..
“Nobody does,” his friend says. “Nobody thought it would storm today. It’s okay.”
A cluster of girls follows, eyes wide and charged with excitement.
I study the passing faces with unabashed interest, and they stare back. Some smile in return, others eye me warily. A few gaze back with the same bold interest.
Miss M. is at the back of the pack, holding her teacher’s hand, somber.
When she sees me, her face breaks open.
“Perfect timing,” her teacher smiles. “M. was just telling me that she feels a little homesick.”
I pick her up and hug her tightly. She folds into my body, a thing that’s all too rare. She’s getting too big to want cuddles. I’m trying very, very hard not to let this hurt my feelings.
“It’s scary outside, Mama,” she whispers in my ear.
“I know. It’s just a storm, though,” I say. “It will pass.”
“Will we have to stay here all night?” Her brown eyes are enormous in her small face.
I laugh a little. “No, baby. We’ll leave in an hour, like normal. We just might get wet.”
She grabs my hand and leads me into the classroom.
“Will you sit by me?”
“For a minute, until I start spelling group.”
A horrific boom of thunder rolls, eliciting high-pitched squeals from the girls and shouts from the boys. The rain sheets down the window; we can’t even see outside anymore.
“You got here just in time,” Mrs._______ says. “This is crazy.”
“Colorado weather,” I say, shaking my head.
“I’m putting you with a few girls today,” she says, handing me a bundle of dry erase boards and markers. “M. isn’t in their group, but she has her own stuff to work on–I think I’ll send her out with you anyways.”
I sit around the table with my daughter and three other girls.
“Hi,” I say brightly. “I’m M.’s mommy.” I give a smile to signal benevolence.
One of the girls blurts, “I’m Ella. There’s a Stella in the class, but that’s not me.” Her hair is ornately curled and adorned. Her mother must possess the doing-hair gene.
Alas, I do not.
“Nice to meet you, Ella.”
I turn to a girl with little starbursts of freckles on her cheeks. She grins widely, displaying huge gaps of missing teeth. “I’m Vivian.” She’s got a bit of the devil in her, I can tell. I like it.
The last girl eyes me suspiciously. She’s considering not answering me, but relents. “I’m Shelly.”
I attempt to get down to brass tacks, but the kids can’t help gawking out the window and jumping out of their seats every time lightning strikes.
“Will I be able to ride the school bus home?” Vivian asks. “My mom says lightning likes metal things and I’m pretty sure my school bus is metal.”
“I think you’ll be just fine,” I say. “Storms that come on this strong usually don’t last. When it’s time to go, I bet it’ll have mostly blown over.”
Vivian considers. “Lightning also likes really tall things, and this building is really tall. Taller than trees, even.”
“Not Redwood trees,” Miss M. pipes in. “Those are huge.”
“I highly doubt we’ll get hit by lightning. I think we’re fine. Okay, girls, let’s try to focus. Next word: ‘about.’”
Ella giggles. “You say that word funny!”
“I do?” I say it again. Danged if the kid doesn’t have a point. “When I was little, I lived in North Dakota. They say some words a little differently. I guess I still sort of have a North Dakota way of saying that word.”
“Where’s North Dakota? Is it in Europe?”
“Does everyone there talk funny?”
“Are you sure we aren’t going to have to spend the night here?”
“What’s a redwood?”
Sigh. So much for spelling.
We muddle along for a while, pretending to learn.
When the bell rings and Miss M. and I walk out of the building at school’s end, it’s not even raining anymore.
“Wow. You were right mom,” she says, stepping deliberately into a puddle. Then she spies the pink worms on the ground, causualties from the storm. “Eww!”
“They can’t hurt you, silly,” I chide.
“But they’re gross. Worms and snakes and bugs are gross.”
She buckles herself in. We splash down roads.
“That was fun, mom.”
“Good. I had fun, too.”
“Henry got really scared, though.”
“Yeah. He did.”
“I got homesick.”
“I get that way sometimes.”
“Me, too, baby.”
“You get homesick?” She clearly thinks this is nuts. It makes her laugh.
“I think everyone does. Sometimes. Even grown ups.”
“Especially during storms,” she says, looking out the window. “Too bad about the rainbows, though. We didn’t get even one.”
“Nope, too cloudy still. But maybe next time, little bun. There’s always the next time.”