The Places I’ve Been….

When Theodore Geisel wrote so enthusiastically, “Oh, the places you’ll go,” I’m not entirely sure it was the bottom of a dumpster that he had in mind.

But parenting lends itself to such a variety of adventures that should I have really been surprised to find myself exactly there earlier this afternoon?

For the most part, my children are responsible citizens–yes, there was that library book left on an airplane (after we’d expressly ordered the kids only to bring along paperbacks we already own), a few jackets abandoned who knows where and too many water bottles and string backpacks left behind to count–but more often they keep track of their belongings, or remember a forgotten article shortly after walking off without it.

When the tearful phone call came around 2 p.m., with my child (I’ll keep this neutral to protect the perpetrator) 30 minutes away for an hours-long choral festival, it was clearly going to be up to me to take action.

“Mom?  I don’t have my retainer, and I think I threw it in the garbage,” was the plaintive plea.

Of course, because the choral festival departure had required an earlier lunch time, my child’s schedule had been discombobulated–plus there was a choir robe, shoes, homework and a sack lunch to gather before boarding the school bus.  But this also meant the retainer had been deposited at the start of the three lunch periods, with hundreds of high schoolers yet to nosh and toss.

I immediately called the high school, and Ruby Bryngelson, helpful as always, couldn’t help but be a little disheartened.   “The first lunch hour?  The dumpster is really deep,” she lamented. “I think you might even have to climb down into it.”

By the time I reached the school, however, Ruby had already notified custodian Lance Bird, who met me near the oversized dumpster, which was indeed brimming with securely tied black garbage bags.

Unbelievably, Lance quickly identified at least one bag from the first lunch period, and we proceeded to untie it.  (He must have laser beams for eyes, I determined.)  Splurts of quickly souring milk, wilted bits of lettuce, half-eaten carrots, corn dog sticks dotted with breading and wiener bites, portions of French fries and lots of ketchup and crumpled milk cartons greeted us.

“I can get you a pair of rubber gloves,” Lance offered helpfully, as my hands were already covered in the mess after mere moments of rummaging through the rubbish.  I accepted immediately, determined to see this through–replacement retainers can cost $500 or more, I was aware–although I was beginning to wonder exactly how long it might take me to browse through the mess in the cold drizzle of the parking lot.

The first bag yielded precisely nothing I could possibly have wanted to walk away with, so Lance grabbed another he THOUGHT might also be from the first lunch hour.

After cutting it open, we again surveyed the mess.  Gritting my teeth, I plunged my hands into the morass, trying to think of it like mixing meatloaf (an entree I make about once every three years, incidentally).

The sun wasn’t shining, but the gray November sky had never felt as warm when I caught a glimpse of a glimmer of metal beneath a generous pile of food scraps.  Gingerly reaching among the muck, I removed layers of gunk to reveal… intact retainer!  Lance beamed, saying, “That’s the third one we’ve found this year.”

It was the equivalent of a $500 pay-day for about 20 minutes of hard labor–not such a bad trade-off, if you ask me.  As I left the high school with an undamaged, goopy retainer resting triumphantly on my palm, my heart was filled with gratitude for the helpful and understanding staff who had come to my aid.

I’m sure hoping my kid, whose savings account will now not have to feel the pain of a lost retainer, will appreciate my effort…but either way, it was another new and unexpected adventure on my parenting path.

“Oh, the places you’ll go!”

That’s for sure.

1 Response

  1. Jan Lowe

    Jane– What a treat to read your article in the Globe on Election Day. It was a welcomed break after an interminable political season. I’m forwarding your clever perspective to family & friends who will then recall their own “parenting places”. I’m still smiling… Mine also involved rubber gloves.

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