One reason we chose our Hillcrest home was proximity to the Pulaski Heights school playground. Our new home had a postage-stamp sized backyard, but we had visions of our then 1-year-old twins eventually being able to walk over and play, perhaps even wander through the school gardens. Still, while we intentionally chose a house near a school, I didn’t realize how living so close to a school would influence the rhythm of our days.
We moved in at the beginning of the summer, after students were freed from the daily cadence of bells, tardies and recess. It wasn’t until students returned at the end of the season that I realized we’d be enjoying more than just a close playground — trying to leave my house around pickup or drop-off time became a total no-go, getting out of our driveway impossible.
Soon I adjusted, our daily routine becoming a shadow of the institutional routine going on across the street. We hear every bell’s ring inside the house. After the first recess, I learned not to be alarmed by the children’s shrieks outside. I know I better get my grocery run in before cars start lining both sides of our street, making it one-way by default. These small intrusions have become welcome in a strange way — because living by this school has made me a time traveler.
A bell rings. Cars line up. Parents escort their children to school. I am transported. Suddenly I am an elementary schooler, not quite a tween, but yearning to be, still very much a daddy’s girl, too, torn between filial affection and total embarrassment as my dad insists on dropping me off for school in his noisy ’65 Chevy truck, rusty and baby blue, woven seat cover itchy under my thighs in dress-code-length shorts, classic rock blaring from fuzzy speakers. Why did he have to pull right up in front of everyone like that? Why do I care what the other kids think about his silly beloved old truck, anyway? A bell rings again and I’m no longer just a daughter, but a mother, too, picking up after my daughters’ breakfast, wrangling shoes onto wiggly feet, forgetting to eat something again, trying to get us out the door for the day as the school traffic begins to clear.
Later, in the quiet of naptime, in the reprieve of a house still for a moment, I hear another bell. I am again transported, this time to the future of a house still for more than just a moment, quiet for longer than just a naptime, children no longer merely sleeping, but at school across the street. I am just as conflicted as that pre-tween in her daddy’s truck, torn between imagining the sweet freedom those days will bring and a stabbing feeling in my heart that my babies will be grown up all too soon. The reverie ends with another bell, or maybe just a child’s cry for “MAMA!” signifying naptime has come to an end, that my sweet, dreadful, school-day freedom is still an ever-shrinking way away.
Later, when dinner is still too far away and toddlers simply must get out, I push my stroller, laden with ever-heavier cargo, alongside the playground, where a final recess plays out as parents arrive for pickup. As children run and shriek, I’ll recognize a few faces of the kids I’ve seen at the Hillcrest Farmers Market, selling me their school garden cherry tomatoes, the ones my kids pop like candy, a pint a week. I know that all too soon, they’ll realize their mom is full of bunk about tomatoes being candy. I know that not so long ago, I was a kid on a playground, my dad idling nearby in his noisy truck, searching for my face among a clutch of backpacked kids. I know that all too soon, the bells that punctuate my days in this neighborhood will actually toll for me. I’m glad they toll. They take me through time to remind me that I’m grateful to be right here, on this day, in Little Rock.