Barefoot bear barely beats bus

As I write this, the soles of my feet are still smarting from my morning jog on the sidewalk outside.

That's because I went jogging in bare feet and pajamas, chasing after my son, who'd hiked off toward the school bus stop. Without his lunch money.

Haha, you say, that must've been a sight -- fat old bear of a guy puffing along in his PJ's -- and I'm sure you're right. Fortunately, I didn't run into any neighbors. Their kids apparently remembered their lunch money before leaving the house.

All across America, however, other parents know that sinking feeling that occurs when they realize the kids have departed the house without their lunch money/musical instruments/homework/science projects/pants. Chasing after them is a major source of exercise for parents of school-age children.

You'd think that, after a few years of this, the kids would learn to do their own inventory before they leave. Pat down their pockets, asking themselves, "Have I got everything I need?" But you'd be wrong.

Kids never learn this. The son I was chasing this morning? He's 15.

Yes, I could've let him go without lunch. Yes, I could've made him beg food off his friends; he's done it before. All you stern disciplinarians out there will think: Could've taught him a lesson. But, whoops, you'd be wrong again. Adolescents don't learn from such experiences. They simply blame us parents for forgetting the lunch money, and we have to hear about their suffering for a week. Better to go for the morning jog in jammies.

No matter how well-prepared the parents may be, no matter how much planning is done or how many outfits are laid out the night before, school-day mornings are chaos.

Everyone's working at cross-purposes. The children typically aren't eager to run out the door for another day of enforced edification, so they drag their feet or wander off. We parents want the kids out of the house, equipped with everything they need for the school day, so we follow them from room to room, wringing our hands and saying, "Do you have your homework? Lunch money? Did you brush your teeth? Comb your hair? Do you have your house key?"

That last-minute inventory-taking is important. Without it, parents find themselves driving to school hours later, ferrying a Play-Doh volcano to Science Fair before the deadline expires. (Murphy's Law says the project will slide off the seat into the floorboard, so the parent shows up with a lopsided volcano. More recriminations.)

The morning routine gets slightly easier as the kids get older. Kindergarteners need so much stuff -- snacks, jackets, mittens, paste, pencils -- that parents need a U-Haul trailer to ferry it all down to the bus stop. Elementary school students have less to carry because all their stuff is in the school lost-and-found.

Teens haul their own junk in their enormous backpacks, but they still must be quizzed about what they're forgetting. And, they must be forced to remove their stereo headphones to hear the questions, which makes them grumble and snarl.

It's worth all the fuss, though, when the parent goes through the list and hits upon the one item the kid's forgotten:

Parent: "Did you brush your teeth?"
Kid: "Of course." (Rolling eyes.) "Gawd."
Parent: "Got your homework?"
Kid: "Uh, no."
Parent: "A-ha!"

There's no time to gloat, however. You need to save your breath. Because a few minutes later, you'll be running for the bus stop, screaming your child's name and waving his lunch money over your head.

I recommend shoes.

(Editor's note: I wrote this one a few years ago. Now, in similar circumstances, we call the teen's cell phone and say, "Come back and get your lunch money. Or starve."

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