It’s a familiar sight at the elementary school: a mom saying goodbye to her kid in line before the bell rings, reminding him that his father, or his father’s girlfriend, or his father’s girlfriend’s mother, will be picking that kid up after school, saying farewell for the next few days. The look of anxiety in the mother’s eyes as the child heads into class, her hope that it all works out. It’s hard to share your child with someone you rarely see, even harder to trust that the fringe family members of that person, often people you’ve never met, will remember to show up, on time and in the right spot, to get your young child after school. And so began the post-divorce phone tree.
I’m one of the moms that lives at school. I didn’t intend for it to be that way, but between volunteering in Peanut’s class twice a week, String Bean’s class twice a week, chaperoning field trips, helping out with in-class projects and parties, having two separate drop-off and pick-up times each day for my two kids, and lingering around campus for after-school play, the parents, step-parents, even teachers have come to know me as one of the moms who can be counted on to be standing there when the bell rings.
As a result, I now have several phone numbers of moms/dads/grandmas who sometimes have to rely on virtual strangers to pick up their beloved children from school. That way, whether or not the ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s younger sister, or whomever, shows up on time and in the right place, the child is covered. My job, when it’s one of those days, is to hang around the kid until they are safely picked up, then discreetly text the mom/dad/grandma to let them know the child is safe, and who the child is with. It’s a whole new game, this modern, fractured family, but I’m learning fast. And I’m happy to do it.
I had a week where my mother and mother-in-law took turns picking up my children from school, and I had a back-up list of about five contacts just in case anything went wrong. That was easy, because I have a good relationship with them and they weren’t annoyed when I texted them every day to make sure all had gone well. But when it’s the new love of an estranged ex, or some even more distant relative from the new family tree, someone you do not have an amicable relationship with, it’s nice to have a little reassurance that your child is covered.
My closest group of mom-friends at school are all similar phone tree monitors, with their own lists of kids they keep track of for the peace of mind of divorced moms and dads, and the safety of children who sometimes fall through the cracks of divorced parents who no longer communicate well. Like minds have drawn us together. We’re easy to spot. We’re the ones on the playground after school, cell phones in hand, obliviously happy kids gathered around us, watching the gate for your arrival.