The Milk Truck Back to School
We must all find a way to get our kids to class on time
(This essay was written for the Rat Creek Press and will appear in the September 2014 issue. Reposted here with permission. Image from http://www.freeimages.com/).
Come September, kids will be driven, walked and bussed back to school. I was delivered by a milk truck.
I’m somewhere in the first four grades. I climb into a sleeping bag on metal shelves, 4 feet from the steel truck floor. My sister is across from me on another shelf. Through the early dawn I wake repeatedly as sunlight spills through the back doors, creaking open. Blue plastic milk crates scrape the floor as my dad drags out a delivery.
I smell sour milk from the inevitable leaks. I am scared of the York Hotel's 'No Knives Allowed’ sign. I tour downtown restaurants by their back alleys.
Eventually I wake up to get dropped off for another day of school.
My dad is a milk man into my early teens, long after my mom and dad get divorced. My mom spends a lot of time in the hospital with a mental illness. My dad has to care for my sister and I.
In the eighties, milkmen work long, early hours. I should not be waking up at 4 AM, or even earlier, but my dad sees no other option. He has to get us to school, somehow.
Sometime in the pre-dawn my dad shakes my sister and I awake enough to get dressed and then tucks us into our makeshift milk truck bunks. He heads off to work and somehow, we sleep. When he makes a run by the elementary school, maybe he wakes us or maybe we are up already, sitting in the wheel well. Maybe I am on a pile of crates, drinking a recently expired chocolate milk.
My dad must think this is less than ideal. Now a dad myself, I cannot imagine this being my only option.
I don’t remember feeling embarrassed getting driven to school in a milk truck. I don’t remember this experience as anything but normal.
As another September approaches, we are devising ways to get our kids to school while we get ourselves to work. We are trading rides and nervously prepping our kids for public transit.
We will shell out hundreds of dollars for surprise school supplies. We are scouring the bottom of Target bins for the last two dollar pencil crayons. We are buying name brand pencils on the school’s insistence.
We will rise early to assemble nut-free lunches.
When the snow falls this will all get harder–all of that scraping and shovelling and the mismatched mittens.
Some mornings I would trudge two mummy-wrapped kids in a double stroller, only their eyes showing, through slits. We forged through a foot of snow, I swear, our untrained dog pulling constantly from one side. Both ways.
Mom and dad – I know your sacrifice. The universe knows your sacrifice. One day, your kids will know your sacrifice, too. They may not tell you, but they will be grateful that you did what we all find a way to do.
You got them to school. Every day. Almost.
From those those milk truck mornings our kids will choose to remember the warmth of that sleeping bag, and the silhouette of their hero against the sunshine of another morning as the doors creak open.