Getting the kids to and from school every day is controlled chaos. We commute on the always crowded rush-hour trains and buses. Last year, in the mornings, Dan would take both boys in, dropping B at his school first and then taking Liam to his school, 2 U-Bahn stops away. Then, at noon, I would go to get L from his preschool, rush home for a quick lunch (and, some days, a short nap for L), and then go back to B’s school to pick him up with L in tow. (We’ve changed things up a bit for this school year, but the basic principles are the same.) By the end of the day, we’re all tired. L is either desperately in need of a nap that he’s not going to get, or groggy from just having woken up from a too-short nap. B is tired from a long day at school and sometimes PE or after school sports. And I’m worn out from managing it all. Our trip home can be relaxed, peaceful and comfortable, or it can be stressful, crowded and grouchy — it depends on the circumstances and on our own states of mind. Such is the reality of traveling to two different schools each day via public transportation.
I try to not be the packhorse mom, laden down with bags, books, paper, sweatshirts, art projects, toys, gym clothes to be washed, and coats, for several reasons. It makes me grouchy. I’m already tired. I don’t feel like it’s safe when my hands are over-occupied with STUFF when they should be free-ish to help the kids on and off the train, up stairs, onto an escalator, or through a crowd. And, I feel that teaching the boys to be responsible for their own things shows them what a pain it is to drag around extra stuff and hopefully makes them more aware of the consequences of their own choices (and less likely to think that it’s absolutely necessary to drag every Beanie Boo on every outing). That being said, last year B was carrying at least two bags home every day, and the choice was not his — it was school-mandated. So, I would typically carry my purse and one of B’s bags, while B was responsible for his second bag, and they were each in charge of anything else they might have brought along.
But even with our routines, and our attempts to not be overburdened, it doesn’t take much to unravel the whole thing.
One day last April, we were headed home, as usual, and had gotten to the last leg of our trip before the last 2 block walk home — the bus. L had recently been in the habit of collecting coins, and he saw a very cool Russian one on the floor of the bus, after we were already on and seated. Since we were already underway, and I’m not in the habit of letting the kids run around a moving bus, I told him that if it was still there when we were getting out, he could pick it up. He was very focused on it, and every time the bus so much as slowed down, he was poised to leap out of his seat and grab it.
My mind was on L and the coin, and preventing him from hurting or endangering himself trying to get it.
We finally arrived at our stop, the last one on the line, and L enthusiastically leapt down and retrieved his coin. Yay!!! We all got off the bus and made our way through a crowded flea market on our block. We got home, went upstairs and inside, and then realized we were without B’s backpack.
The buses from our stop run every 5 minutes, so, in the hope that we would be fast enough, we threw our shoes on again, ran out onto the landing, realized the elevator was in use, rushed down five flights of stairs, dashed back downstairs, through the courtyard and the flea market and back to the bus stop, where a bus was waiting. Though I was fairly certain, just by looking, that it was not our bus, we climbed aboard and checked anyway.
It was not our bus. Our bus, and the backpack, were gone. We were too late.
B, already panicky about having lost his backpack, was crushed.
We fought our way out again against the flow of embarking passengers. And then, at a loss for what else we could do, we sat on the step of the bakery near the bus stop and waited.
From having lost many previous items on public transportation (the unseen cost of commuting with kids by train, rather than by car, is the insane number of times hats and gloves must be replaced), we knew that theoretically the backpack would be found and turned in to the transit authority’s central lost and found. We also knew that despite the fact that Austrians are generally conscientious about getting things back to their owners (hanging up lost gloves and hats on the nearest fencepost is nearly a religion here) we had never before recovered anything that had been lost on public transportation.
The buses on that line run on a relatively short, 20 minute (ish) route through the center of the city. So, I figured that shortly, the bus (if not the backpack) would be back.
We waited. When the next bus pulled up, we hopped aboard behind the departing passengers to look for the backpack. The interior of the bus was the wrong color. Not it.
We waited some more. The next bus pulled up, and we hopped aboard. The driver scolded us for getting onto a bus that was not the next set to depart (the previous bus was still also waiting at the stop), and it was still not our bus. We were getting discouraged.
The next bus pulled up and we hopped aboard. Aha! It was the right color inside! And it had the same “One Direction” graffiti we’d had on our bus! It was our bus! But alas, when we climbed back to our seat, there was no bag. The driver, confused at our excitement and enthusiasm, watched us as we walked up to the front. “Bitte, hast du eine rucksack gefunden?”, Benjamin asked.
And, he had. With a quick but kind reminder that we might not be as lucky next time, he happily lifted the bag over his little divider and presented it to B.
Everything inside was accounted for, and we happily headed home, grateful for the kindness of strangers, and for the Austrian tendency to help lost items get back to their owners.