Why The School Pick Up Line Is Torture For Special Needs Parents

I look up at the clock and realize I have to run. Somehow, for a brief moment, I had actually stopped worrying about my child. But now that the clock ticks 2:28.

I have to hop in the car and head to pick him up from school.

School Pick Up Line Thoughts Special Needs Mom

Immediately, my stomach starts to turn, my head starts to spin, and I started to wonder of all the possibilities of what’s gonna happen when I got to pick him up.

  • Will he walk out on his own with a smile on his face?
  • Will he come barreling out with his aid close behind?
    OR
  • Will today be another day where I watch as the rest of the children file out of the school one by one, each minute passing by slowly, without a sign of my child?
  • Will today be the day that I see his teacher appear through the children, walking slowly towards my car, looking down at the ground?
  • Will today be the day that I have to pull my car out of the pickup line to park my car?
  • Will today be another day where I walk into the school and be met by a slew of teachers, and therapists, and principals trying to calm my child?

Why the School Pick Up Line is Torture for Special Needs Parents

The waiting and anticipation is almost too much to bear.

I take a deep breath.
I turn the corner.
I see that the cars are already piling up.

I look around and I notice that I don’t see anyone out here waiting for me yet. That could be a good sign, right?

2:44 At this point, I still have six minutes until the school bell rings.

School Pick Up Line Thoughts Special Needs Mom (1)

Six minutes that most moms in the pickup line get to scroll their Facebook, check their emails, talk to their best friend on the phone, or enjoy a cup of hot coffee before they set it down and forget about it.

I could check through my to do list.
I could call and make an appointment for the doctor that I keep forgetting to do, but instead I stare at the clock and I stare at the front door.

And with each passing moment, my stomach gets tighter, and more nervous, and a little more fearful.

What am I gonna be met with today?

2:51 I see a football flip over the top of the cars.

It’s the first sign of a child.

Not my kid. 

He wouldn’t be caught dead near a football. But that means that I’m closer to finding out what today was like.

In between the cars, I see a teacher.

Not my kid’s teacher.

The sidewalks are starting to fill up.
Kids are hopping on their bikes.
A little girl just waved at her mom.

Those aren’t my kids.

I’m still far enough back in the pickup line that I can see reflections of children walking down the sidewalk in the window, but none of them have that bright yellow Pikachu hoodie on.

Still, not my kid.

2:52 It’s been two minutes since all the kids let out, and there’s not a sign of my child.

I have to be hopeful and believe that there’s not a reason to worry yet.
Maybe it’s just taking him a while to pack up his things.
Maybe he got excited about the last project he was doing.
Maybe I’m not far enough up in the line yet for him to see me.

Or maybe … he’s in crisis mode again.

This is not what I dreamed the pickup line would be like.

School Pick Up Line Thoughts Special Needs Mom (2)

I see all the pickup line and mommy rants on my Facebook feed and I wonder, “How do they have time to have such rants?” Aren’t they anxiously awaiting their child?
Aren’t they worried to find out if their child had a good day?
Aren’t they fighting off a ball of nerves in their stomach as each minute passes by?”

That’s when I realize, this isn’t something that all parents deal with.

For them, this 20 minutes of waiting is their most blissful time of the day.

They are actually by themselves for a minute.
There is silence.
They can hear their own thoughts.
They can make a phone call.
And they can even rant on Facebook if they want to.

But those of us that have uniquely different kids…

We agonize.
We worry.
We assume.
We fear the unknown.

But more than anything, we hope.

We hope that this will be the day.

The day that our kid will come running out of the school building just like all the other kids, with a smile on their face, excited to greet us.

2:55 It’s now five minutes past the bell. Will today be one of those days?

I see blond hair. His teacher has blond hair. Maybe this is her.

I don’t see him.
Oh, no. I don’t see him.
Oh, please God, tell me that today it was not another crisis day.

Yes, it’s her. It’s his teacher.

I scan her entire body.
She’s got a quick step.
Her eyes are open wide.
And wait, what’s that?

She has a smile on her face.
She’s nodding her head.
She’s giving me a thumbs up.

Today WAS one of those days.

And there’s that Pokemon sweater.
And there’s that smile.
And his eyes are wide and he’s running towards the car excited to see me.

Days like this are few and far between but, they happen.

And days like this? This is what gives me hope.

This is why we keep treading through these treacherous waters, exploring these daring adventures, and embracing at the unknown. These are the days that give us hope.

For more Adventures in Parenting a Fierce Kid: 
What is the Difference between Tantrums and Meltdowns


Thanks for being part of the Lemon Lime Adventures community. For those of you that are new here, I want you to know you are not alone. Loving children that don’t fit in a nice pretty box comes with ups and downs, twists and turns, but together… we’ve got this.

I invite you to join me on Facebook or in the Superkids Movement, where we are challenging ourselves to see our children’s behaviors as a cry for help and we are building a toolbox and language to build them up and create a lasting relationship.

In my new best-selling book, The Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day, I have created a toolbox written for you and your child to change their inner language and the way the world sees our children.

11 thoughts on “Why The School Pick Up Line Is Torture For Special Needs Parents”

  1. Bridget

    Fantastic Post! Yes absolutely the 1st 3 minutes gives you the forecast of your next 12-48plus hours. Every day I have to write or respond to emails from teachers and counselors, nurse about when he melted down, why, with who, what happened then? Do we need to follow up. But more typically I have to play Sherlock Holmes and pry the info out of him THEN follow up with school.And that has nothing to do with actual school lessons, testing, IEP crap, homework, friendship attempts, therapy appointments, food, I’m SO tired of being the “bad guy” that has to clean up the mess every day and try to push it through the next day and the day after that. I want to be “fun dad” instead of tired and sad/mean mom for making people do stuff they don’t want to do!!
    Thanks for bringing the reality!

    1. Trish

      Amen Bridget! I’m also sick of being the big-mean-nasty one while dad gets to be “fun dad” because its “not his job”. Thanks for staying strong and sharing your frustrations.

  2. Sarah Bradshaw

    OMG Dayna, I just burst into tears reading this blog post. The image of your son running out of school smiling like all the other kids just hit me hard. I went to therapy for months to deal with pick-up time anxiety and the invasive thought that it just wasn’t fair that other people don’t have it to deal with. What a relief to know there are two of us!

  3. Karen

    So sorry that it is so torturous for parents to pick up their child. I am a special education teacher and I feel for you! I always want my kids to have a good day. I always want them to leave school with a smile. School is not set up for kids with extra needs, so we have to work extra hard to make it work. I hope that as the days go by, the bad days will be decreased and you won’t have to be anxious. Kids are amazing.

  4. Yafa

    My “pickup line” was actually INSIDE the school. I was a teacher at my son’s school. My stomachache would begin towards the end of the day. Would his teacher be waiting for me outside of my classroom to let me know how his day went. If she was waiting, it usually meant bad news. And then my bad mood would begin after a long day of teaching. I was advised to tell this teacher if my son’s behavior did not warrant a phone call to my house at night, as she would do with other misbehaved children, then it didn’t warrant her waiting for me with the bad news. These after school “visits” stopped and the phone calls got less and less frequent. And my bad moods also get less frequent and my relationships with my son improved.

  5. ~B~

    Thanks for sharing. I’m at work bawling. Put that in reverse and every.freaking.day. I HOPE and PRAY that my son(s) will get to school. That they’ll have fun. That they’ll learn something. That they will have smiles on their faces. Unfortunately, it’s not that way more often than it is.
    Then at night as I drive home from work, I start with your same feelings. What will I walk into? Will he (not both as I catch a bit of a break) be smiling? Will something good have happened at school? Will he have a huge meltdown? Will something else be broken? What mess will be created? Will be have homework hell happening? Will I have to fight him off yet again? Will he go to his ONE evening activity?

    So freaking draining.

    Exhausted Mom

  6. Annette

    I am a teacher and this is a FANTASTIC POST! Thank you for letting me see this side of the situation. I am sharing this with others in my building!

  7. Heather

    I was in tears reading this. Everyday is so different. How will he get off the bus? Will he be smiling? Will his lunch bag be in shambles again? Will I have a note from the teachers? Will he be in a bad mood? Have an incomplete grade because he can not stay focused during classtime? Most parents do not understand. Thank god you all do! Thank you!

  8. Jennifer Goodwin

    Thank you for voicing this deep, horrible sense of anxiety and worry that I used to get every day when my son was in public school. Waiting all day for calls from the nurse, counselor, assistant principal, dean, ESE teacher, math teacher, etc etc- and those calls came 4 days out of every 5. And then to top it all off, waiting for that moment of dismissal- looking for his face, looking for the phone call that tells me to come to the office, looking at him once i see him to try and figure out his mood. Pure hell. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Di

    I’ve just read this and the tears are streaming down my face. You captured my feelings exactly, except we don’t have teachers or therapists at school. My child holds everything together mainly at school ( when I can get him there due to his anxiety ) I dread leaving home not knowing what his day has been like. I look to see him sitting at pickup to see if he’s with friends or alone and if his face looks happy or upset as I know it will unleash on me in the car. Thank you for this!

  10. Anna

    Thank you for the courage to put into words what the rest of us are thinking! The only two I would add is that 9 times out of 10, I skip the pick-up line, Park my car and tiptoe to wait outside my sons classroom so I can catch him before he bolts out the doors of the building to attempt to avoid the public meltdowns and assist with grabbing backpacks and thrown shoes.
    And this anxiety is not only the 10 minutes before the bell rings, it’s from the time he’s dropped off in the morning. I sit with my stomach in knots waiting for the phone call that it was a BAD day & I need to come pick my son up from school… everyday he makes it through to pickup is a good day, even when it’s not.

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