Staying Safe in the School Drop-Off Lane


My son started Kindergarten last week. After weeks of everyone asking him how excited he was, he very nervously entered the building last Friday. He was a wreck but didn't cry (I might have, just a little), and he ended the day with a wealth of positive energy and excitement.

People have also been asking how I'm doing, and the truth is that I've also been a bit nervous, but not in the way you might think. As the mother of three young children, getting the first one off to school was more sweet than bitter, especially since my son craves learning like I crave one of Stella McCartney's Falabella tote bags. The thing that causes me anxiety is the school drop-off and pick-up routine itself.

The combination of a still-anxious son, an excitable crowd of other parents and children, and lots of cars in a small space is anxiety-inducing.

I walked to school (uphill, through snow, five miles) when I was a youngster, so driving my son to his elementary school is a novelty for both of us. At his school, you can choose to stay in your car and drive through the hug-n-go circle, thereby avoiding getting out of your car. Or you can park in the overcrowded lot and greet or leave your child in the school yard when the bell rings.

Since I have two other small children always strapped in the car, the hug-n-go would be much easier (no loading and unloading the littler ones), but we've been doing the parking-lot routine because my son and I are slightly intimidated by the hug-n-go. Ominous questions swirl around in our minds: How would he find me? Would we be rushed? We're so new that hardly anyone knows us, so how could the teachers manning the circle know how to steer him toward me?

Since I constantly tell my children to do one thing each day that scares them, I felt obligated to give the hug-n-go a whirl the other day. My son and I were nervous but it all worked out, thanks to the guidance from the school principal and the teachers who make the circle run smoothly. Other more-experienced parents and children were a big help, too.

The advice passed on by the sages mentioned above helped make the hug-n-go a success for us. Here are a few things you should keep in mind, should you find yourself in a situation similar to ours:

Manage expectations. I told my son before we left for school that we would use the hug-n-go for drop-off and pick-up that day. We talked about how it would work, I assured him that I would find him and a teacher would help him find me. I also let one of the teachers know that this was our first time so that she could look out for him.

Be early. I made sure we arrived at school a few minutes early in the morning and in the afternoon so that we could secure a good place near the front of the hug-n-go lineup. This ensured that a teacher immediately saw us and helped my son out in the morning and in in the afternoon and that he didn't have to wait around for us wondering if he'd been forgotten (like I once was as a child). Being early eased tensions and reduced stress.

Ditch your cellphone. No talking, no texting. It's dangerous. Rumor has it that one mother in the hug-n-go circle drove over her child's foot because she was mindlessly yapping away on the phone. Don't you have enough parental guilt already without driving over your child's foot? No conversation is that important. Besides, you probably don't have time for a trip to the ER among the many other tings you're doing.

Pay attention. These first days of school are anxious times whether you have a kindergartner or a fifth-grader. Watch him walk away in the morning. Eagerly look for him when he comes out in the afternoon. Smile and give him a big hug both times. Whether you are in the hug-n-go or parked and standing in the yard for him, a few minutes of your undivided attention can go a long way.

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So we have this at my kids school as well. Everyone who uses the "car rider" option gets assigned a number. You have to display this number and only 4 cars load at a time in the afternoon. All the kids wait with teachers until the cars line up. Only problem I have with it is the crazy parents that line up an hour before school lets out! Really? Do you lack any kind of a life that you will sit in your car that long? Even if you show up after school lets out the line moves - you'll only sit maybe 10 minutes. Funny because as my son went from Elementary to middle to now high school there is a girl in his same grade - her mother was always first at the elementary school, always first at the middle school and when they started school last Wednesday - she was first in line at the high school!!

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