Two things struck me about the little girl standing by the curb in front of the elementary school this morning. The first was the enormous Bobby Jack monkey logo on her pants. The second was that she was alone.
You don't see many kids standing alone in front of that school in the morning. First of all, there are hordes of overprotective parents, like myself, rushing their sleepy kids to the proper entrances before the bells ring. Even after their progeny are safely within the school walls, the parents usually remain, chatting, with their dogs, their strollers and their steaming coffee cups, creating a cozy little protective community.
The transfer buses, too, have plenty of oversight. There are staff members who meet the kids right at the steps of the buses, taking their hands, greeting them by names and leading them inside.
So the fact this child was by herself surprised me a bit. However, some parents do stand across a little lane in the parking lot and watch their kids cross, so I thought that might be the case.
But I happened to look up from the lecture I was giving my son on the importance of hats and gloves as we passed and the little girl caught my eye. "Excuse me," she said. "Is it time for breakfast?"
Oh dear. The school served breakfast before school, I knew, but I was pretty sure the bell was going to ring in about five minutes. But ... maybe this girl had special permission. And she was alone. And she seemed small - maybe first grade? That may not seem small to some parents, but it does to me. Of course, all kids seem small to me.
"Hmmm," I said to her, bending down. "I'm not sure if they're still serving breakfast, but you can check. Go right in that door, okay?" I pointed to the front door, behind her. "Turn left, and that's where the cafeteria is. Do you know where it is?"
She nodded, and she started walking to the front door. I started walking away. I stopped and looked behind me. She was, indeed, walking in the front door.
I delivered my half-awake son to his classroom, fairly certain he was aware that gloves and a hat should be worn in cold weather (but not certain he would wear them), but I couldn't get that little girl out of my mind. On a whim, I headed to the cafeteria. It was empty. Deflated. I just stood there.
The kindly cafeteria lady, whose name I should know but don't, recognized me. "Can I help you?" she asked me. I told her about the little girl I saw outside, and what had transpired.
"Did you see her?" I asked hopefully. "Did she get something to eat?"
"No," she said. "But I know who she is, I think. She's new - she's pretty timid. She comes in here a few times a week. I'll keep an eye out for her tomorrow. Her mom probably wants her to eat breakfast."
I'm sure she does. What mom wouldn't? And I don't know why her daughter was alone, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I know I'd like to be with my kids far more than I am.
But more to the point: I felt bad. I still feel bad. I think I would have felt better if the girl had said, "Do I have time for breakfast?" not, "Is it time for breakfast?" like she was confused. I have to think she lost track of time - I wish I had taken her hand, delivered my son to class, and then delivered her to the cafeteria myself. Or vice-versa.
I know we can't take care of every kid in the world - but I'd like to think we would help every one we can. If mine were lost or confused. I hope someone would help. I think I did a little - I hope I did - but not enough.
Lesson learned. A little is not enough