The noontime sun glinted off the snow along the highway as I neared Glendale Heights, Ill. Two bag lunches sat beside me on the car seat: one for me and one for my daughter, Catherine. Budget cuts in the fall had eliminated the school bus between Catherine’s half-day kindergarten and her daycare center in Wheaton. The bus still ran before and after school, but for the last three months it had been up to me to make the midday trip with Catherine on my lunch break. I loved the chance to check in with her halfway through the day. As wonderful as her teachers were, I just felt better when I was looking after Catherine myself. As a single mother I had to get used to sharing responsibility for her. I was trying.
Each day my redheaded Catherine ran out of the school and greeted me with a giant hug. I’d kiss her face, using her freckles for target practice. Then we’d drive down the highway, eating lunch as Catherine told me about her morning. The hard part came when I had to let her go again at daycare. “Lord,” I prayed every time I watched her disappear through those doors and into another’s care, “please protect and care for her as only you can.”
The sidewalk was empty when I arrived at the school. They must be running late, I thought, but after several minutes I went to check with the school office. The secretary told me the kindergarten had been dismissed already. “But Catherine isn’t waiting in her usual spot by the door,” I said, trying not to panic. As I described my daughter to the secretary, a look of fear came into her eyes.
“A redheaded girl was waiting by the doorway, and I mistook her for another student who lives nearby,” she said. “I told her to go on and start walking! I’m so sorry!”
She went to get the principal, who immediately called the police. “We’ll find her,” he assured me. I ran back to my car. Which way would Catherine have headed? I had no idea. For over an hour I drove slowly down snowy streets, calling her name out my open window. Impatient drivers honked their horns, but I ignored them. I had to find my daughter. It was my job to take care of her. My job and no one else’s.
I stuck my head out the window once more. “Catherine!” I shouted, gulping a rush of icy wind. There was no sign of her. I turned back toward the school. “God,” I prayed aloud, “please let her be all right!”
Catherine still hadn’t been found. I called the daycare center from the school office. “They must be wondering where she is too.”
When I heard the calm voice of the daycare center’s director on the other end of the line I burst into tears. How I wished this were a normal day, when I was dropping Catherine off, leaving her in their care. I choked out my name and explained that Catherine wouldn’t be coming to daycare today.
“But she’s already here,” the director said. I tore out of the school, calling, “She’s fine,” over my shoulder, and sped to the daycare center. There was Catherine, safe and sound, waiting for me in the administration office. “Thank you, God! Thank you!” I cried, throwing my arms around my daughter and breathing in the familiar scent of her baby shampoo until she finally managed to wriggle free. “Catherine, how did you ever get here?”
“The bus?” There was no public bus service between Glendale Heights and Wheaton. “Catherine,” I said, “tell me everything that happened.”
“I waited for you inside like always,” she said, “but the secretary told me to start walking. I didn’t see our car. I got scared, Mommy. Then I saw the school bus—the same one I used to take to daycare. The nice lady bus driver opened the door and I got in. She took me right here.”
“We didn’t see who dropped her off,” the director said.
I shook my head, trying to make sense of this. “Your school bus hasn’t run for three months now,” I said. “Remember? That’s why Mommy started driving you.”
“I know,” said Catherine. “But it was my bus, Mommy. Honest. I wouldn’t have gotten on it otherwise.”
“Let’s call the bus company that runs the school service,” the director said. “Maybe the midday program started up again without our knowing.”
“We haven’t sent a noon bus to that elementary school for three months,” a representative from the company confirmed.
“School buses don’t just appear out of nowhere,” I said. There had to be some explanation. I called Catherine’s school and spoke to the secretary, explaining as best I could what had happened. “The Lord was looking out for her,” she said. “But I won’t ever make such a careless mistake again. Please don’t blame the school.”
I focused on the outcome rather than the mistake and assured the secretary I knew Catherine was in good hands there.
I went back to work, sure Catherine was safe. When I got home my daughter and I had a long talk about what happened. “Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes,” I said. “So don’t ever be afraid to speak up if something feels wrong.” I realized I’d been making a mistake too—in my thinking. No one raises a child completely alone, and I’d overlooked all of the good, loving care Catherine had gotten from others. “There are a lot of people out there taking care of you, Catherine. There’s me, and your teachers, the principal at school, the police, and everyone at the daycare center.” And I’d left out the most important one. “God looks after you most of all,” I said. “Even when you don’t know it, he’s got his eye on you. He sent an angel to drive your bus!” Catherine’s blue eyes grew wide at the thought of it, but there simply was no other explanation. And, of course, God looks out for us single mothers too. Never again would I assume that I was the only one who put my daughter’s care above all else.