Yesterday was just supposed to be cold. Really cold.
Snow was predicted south of us (2-4 inches, which is a lot for South Alabama), but in Birmingham, we were just supposed to have cold. As a matter of fact, Isaac had a field trip to a science museum yesterday. The night before, I pondered (online) if his field trip may be delayed. After all, there was a chance we may get a dusting of snow. But even then the weather men said that there would be no problems on the road.
So I sent the boys to school as usual (but with undershirts for warmth). I met some friends for coffee. As we chatted, we began to see flurries out the window.
“eek! Snow! So pretty!” we squealed. Then we drank more coffee.
“Whoa! It’s kind of sticking! Cool!” we exclaimed, as we put on our coats to leave.
My friends, whose kids are in different preschools, both pondered picking their kids up early to play in the snow that we assumed would be brief and transient.
I decided I would go home and sit in front of a window and drink coffee while enjoying the rare view. Then on the way home, I hit a patch of ice.
That’s strange. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
When I got to my exit, I wondered why the van in front of me was just sitting there not moving. Then I realized that its tires were spinning on ice.
Hmmmm. I bet they will close schools early. Maybe I should head there now. I sure hope Isaac’s class stays put at the science center.
Just then my phone buzzed. A chaperone from the field trip letting me know that the bus was going to head back to the school before things get bad. Immediately after, a notice that schools are closing.
Please note, that things got unexpectedly bad in our city in a matter of about 15 minutes. All children were at school. All parents were at work or home. Everyone was told to get their kids NOW, but they didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. Wrecks were happening everywhere. Cars were sliding off roads, into poles, into ditches. Not because we are Southerners who can’t drive in snow. Because the roads were sheets of ice. Because it happened in 15 minutes. Because the few pieces of equipment we have to help with these kinds of emergencies were deployed elsewhere.
I got to the school, thinking that the buses would be there within the hour. I waited in the library and pulled up Facebook. I saw this picture/caption posted by a local news agency:
“Take a look at the Birmingham Metro. I’ve NEVER seen so many accidents at once. BE CAREFUL.”
Not really what you want to see when your child is on a school bus without you. In the heart of the Birmingham Metro. But I told myself it would be okay. I prayed. I imagined the kids eating their sack lunches on the bus to pass the time. Then I realized that usually a chaperone carries the cooler of lunches in a separate car. A quick text to the teacher confirmed it. They didn’t have any food on board.
A knife in my heart. But okay, at least they are on a heated bus. Things could be much worse.
As minutes turned to hours, and the snow continued to fall on top of the ice, I realized that Isaac may not make it back today. That even if he did, the longer that Matthew and I waited there at school for him, we would likely be stranded at school. While grateful for a warm place to sleep, I began to panic about food. I had a pack of seeds and dried fruit in my purse. I allowed Matthew to eat half of his lunch, but conserved the rest. I realized that if Isaac made it back, his lunch would still be somewhere else and he would be starving. Anytime a volunteer came by with random snacks, I would swipe anything I knew my kids could safely eat. A box of raisins. An apple. A bottle of water. I refused to eat anything because I just didn’t know how long we would be there, and all I could think about was Isaac. Hungry on a bus.
After a few hours, it hit me. What if the bus runs out of gas? Right now they have heat, but what if they are hungry and then cold? I looked at the room full of children, and realized–they have no idea that their parents may have run right off the road trying to get to them. They have no clue that they will probably be sleeping here tonight.
That pretty much did it for my calm. I made sure Matthew was watching the library movie, and I skulked off between 2 bookshelves and cried my eyes out. Matthew found me there a few minutes later, which freaked him out, of course. I pulled it together as best I could and we read some library books together.
Around that time, I noticed that the library was nearly empty. Where was everyone? I walked into the hallway and heard music. We gathered our stuff and walked into the science lab. All of the kindergarten teachers were there and the PE teacher was leading everyone in the “Cha Cha Slide”. The kids were having a blast and I almost lost it again, right there. Because here were the teachers who couldn’t get to their own families, but were making sure the kids were occupied, loved, having fun. My heroes.
After observing the party for about a half hour, the librarian came to get me. “Is your child in Mrs. King’s class?”. Yes, I said. She grabbed my sleeve and just said, “come with me”.
My whole body went numb. Did the bus careen off a cliff? What is going on? Where is she taking me? She took me to the vice principal who said that Isaac’s bus was rerouted to another school, and that I should go there. You know, on the roads that no one should be on. They asked if I wanted to leave Matthew with them.
Nope. We are all going to be together in this. I’m not going to leave one child to get another.
We got to the car. I mobilized prayer through Facebook. It took the car 10 minutes to thaw out enough to try to move. I tried to explain the gravity of the situation to Matthew. I prayed aloud for supernatural safety.
He asked if we could listen to the “Frozen” soundtrack.
I prayed for patience.
We pulled onto the solid white road and got started. Friends, I am here to tell you, that we had not a single issue. The roads were clear of cars and we went oh so slowly. I passed some cars in ditches, a garbage truck on its side, a car slammed into a pole. I made it to the school with not a single slip.
Isaac ran to my arms, having been fed a hamburger patty, raisins and an apple. We were together now.
Anything else we get today is bonus.
I gathered up my boys and a field trip chaperone and her son who needed a ride back to their car at the elementary school. We piled in the van to go back to our elementary school. We picked up a mother and son and drove them a few hundred yards toward their destination. As we turned onto a main road, I saw a woman walking alone. She wasn’t even wearing a proper winter coat. “Where are you trying to go?” we asked her. She was walking to the middle school……about 6 miles away.
It worked out because the chaperone I had with me was going to try to get to the middle school after I got her to her car. And the two ladies knew each other. Divine intervention.
We made it back to the elementary school with no issues again. How this was possible in the earthly realm, I have no idea. A close friend, who is also a neighbor called. He had been walking up and down our road helping people who had wrecked or abandoned their cars. I told him we were going to try to make it to the CVS near our house. From there things get very hilly and wrecks were abundant. I felt confident that we could walk the half mile home from there. It would be miserable but doable. My friend generously offered to walk to the CVS and meet us there to help me get the boys home.
Have I mentioned that Jason is in Florida on business?
We prayed over the van and the situation again before heading out for CVS. We prayed that if there was anyone who needed help that we would be able to help them. We were able to give one more woman a ride to her home. We made it to CVS with no issues even though there were hills. I was tempted to just go for it and try to get home, but reminded myself that we were lucky enough already. We were together and safe and we didn’t need a wreck.
My friend met us at CVS. We sat in the car for a while so he could get warm and so that we could prepare ourselves for the walk. I looked at my kids. Isaac was wearing slip on canvas shoes and thin, unlined athletic pants. He had 1 cloth glove (his other hand is in a cast). Matthew had refused to bring his scarf or gloves. But at least he had on thick tennis shoes. I had no gloves, but good shoes and a scarf and a coat. I had 1 pack of hand warmers. I gave each boy one to hold. We got out, leaving backpacks and non-essentials behind. We walked across the road and Isaac’s shoes were already soaked through. This was not ideal.
Right then a huge truck pulled up and offered us a ride.
He drove us slowly and safely home. Right to our front door.
Where Matthew promptly asked if we could play in the snow.
I wanted to lay in bed and sob.
My friend generously took Matthew outside to play while I texted and Facebooked to let people know we were home. Safe. Together.
So many of my friends didn’t have it as easy. The 2 ladies I had coffee with both had to abandon their cars and walk miles through terrible conditions with children younger than mine. All of our husbands just happened to be traveling. The two other school buses on the field trip weren’t as lucky as Isaac’s. One made it to an alternate school around 6 PM. The other ended up at Children’s Hospital downtown for the night.
My sister in Atlanta was creeping along until 2 AM with my nephew in the car. My sister in law was rescued on the interstate by a school bus in the middle of the night.
More and more are not nearly as lucky. It hurts my heart and my spirit to hear the desperation on Facebook and to know there isn’t anything tangible I can do to help.
But I am praying. And if yesterday taught me anything, praying is the most important thing I could be doing.
Please join me in praying for my city.