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Why School Pick-Up Is the Scariest Thing on Earth

Photograph by Getty Images

I thought I was ready for kindergarten.

Lunchbox (plus Instagram accounts with plenty of inspiration for packing fun lunches)? Check.

Time for homework and reading together after school? Check.

Preparing for the flood of invites to birthday parties for children I don't know? Check.

But what I wasn't prepared for? School pick-up.

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Why did no one warn me that this was going to be the most terrifying part of sending my child to public school?

For one, the timing is everything. Get there too early and you're fighting all the REALLY early parents. Come too late and there's not a spot anywhere. You have to come at just exactly the right moment so the early parents have already collected their darlings and left and the late parents haven't shown up yet. And of course, you never know exactly what time school will let out. Invariably, if you show up right on time, they're five minutes late. If you show up five minutes late, your poor child is the very last unloved child to be collected. I need an atomic watch (and I need the school to get one, too).

I feel like I need a special license to drive through a school pick-up zone, kind of like you need a special license to drive a motorcycle.

Two, I thought the meanness of school pick-ups and drop-offs was a myth. Newsflash! It's not a myth. There is, indeed, a plethora of angry looks, honking and aggressive driving. I also live in fear of a certain silver car whose driver really hates me for reasons I cannot figure out.

The first time, she turned around three separate times as she was walking into the school to glare ferociously at me. I couldn't figure out why on earth she was so mad (and I still have no idea—my car was parked neatly, my doors were closed, and I was just waiting for 30 seconds for my child to buckle herself in before we drove off). Since then, she's been hell-bent on loudly pointing out anything I do wrong in the parking lot (my door is opened too wide! I've parked too close to the curb!). Now I do everything in my power to avoid parking anywhere near her. I guess bullying lasts forever.

Third, it's like driving in opposite world. People park on the street and careen through the parking lot. Both children and adults ignore the crosswalks and dart out between cars in every direction. The fire lane? Well, that's where you park when you pick up a kindergartener, of course! (Can't you get an enormous ticket for that kind of thing?)

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I feel like I need a special license to drive through a school pick-up zone, kind of like you need a special license to drive a motorcycle. The test would involve knowing which signs to scrupulously follow (the crossing guard!) and which ones to cavalierly ignore (everything else). You also would have to dodge dozens of jaywalking parents and obliviously sprinting children. Plus parking, retrieving your child, buckling them into the car and getting back into the exit lane within 90 seconds? No one would pass that test.

I suddenly understand why people love sending their children on the school bus.

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