One of the punctuality challenges to the Munich train system, as noted in last week’s post, is unexploded bombs buried in the ground. Yes, you read that correctly. There are so many bombs in the ground that when one is found, rather than panicking, passengers simply groan, “Oh no, not another one!” and just hope the trains are not delayed too much. Because once detected, the whole system is thrown into a tizzy.
Woe to those who are on their way to have an emergency appendectomy, get married, catch a flight, or in my daughter’s case, are en route to school.
On two occasions, discoveries of bombs put my 10-year-old daughter’s troubleshooting skills – and my nerves – to the test. She regularly took the S-Bahn train alone to school, as the trip required no changes and was easy. Except for the day they found a bomb.
I’m in the middle of a shower when the phone rings. I rush to answer it, and standing dripping wet and naked in the hallway, I see my daughter’s number on the display. My pulse quickens.
“I don’t know where I am!” she sobs. “The train stopped and everyone got off!”
What the f***? is my first thought. The train took a different route?!
Think, Brenda, think. She has to get to school and needs me to tell her how. This is no time to panic.
Drip, drip, drip.
“What do you see around you?” I ask.
“Lots of trains!”
So she is on the ground level of the main train station, I figure. I can picture the station perfectly, having been there hundreds of times. I hit on a solution.
“Take the tram!” I say. “Walk in the opposite direction of where all the trains are. There’s a tram stop out there. Just ask somebody which one goes to Isartor.”
While I say this, she begins walking and breathes nervously into the phone.
“Yes, I see it!” she says with excitement. Now she’s running.
“Wait! Careful! Don’t get run over crossing the street!” I say. My heart is pounding.
“It’s OK, Mom, I got it!” she says. And hangs up.
In my mind’s eye, I clearly see her crossing the busy street to catch the tram. The only thing I can do now is to have faith in all those years of teaching her how to cross a street safely.
Yet while this experience nearly gave me a heart attack, it had the opposite effect on my daughter. Sauntering through the door at the end of the day, she casually mentioned how it worked out fine with the tram. No problem! She had not only fully recovered from her panic, she had also clearly enjoyed what to her was, in the end, an adventure. At least she’s learned how to deal with that sort of situation, I figure.
But the “I almost got blown up on my way to school” saga continues.
Another day, it was the return trip that had a surprise in store. She would normally arrive home at about 4:30 pm, but that day, it was already 5:30 with no sign of her. Her cell phone goes straight to voicemail, and while leaving a third and fourth message gives me a vague sense that I am doing something, it is futile.
Not knowing what to do, I am completely distraught. My thoughts run wild. Should I call the police? What it’s like to lose a child? Would anyone from my family in the U.S. come to the funeral?
Just as I’m about to fall off the cliff of despair, she comes sailing through the door at 6:00 pm. Once again, while I am on the brink of a breakdown, my daughter looks like she just won a marathon. Turns out, that isn’t too far from the truth.
“Where have you been?!” I exclaim. Half of me wants to shout, “Why didn’t you answer your phone? I’ve been worried sick!” but my other half is awash in relief.
Completely taken aback by my reaction, she quickly launches into an explanation of what happened. The train had stopped unexpectedly in Laim, one station before ours, Pasing. Everyone got off. Not knowing what to do, she simply followed people down the stairs and through a tunnel. Reaching the street, she saw a sign that said “Pasing” which she followed home. After all, she knew that’s where she lived.
It bears mentioning that where she got off the train in Laim is about 4.5 km (just under 3 miles) from where we live. It’s a long way to walk, especially when you’re schlepping a standard German school backpack the size of a small refrigerator (only a slight exaggeration, I assure you).
She is all pumped up and triumphant at making this successful trek home. While my hand hovered over the phone, ready to call up the army, navy and air force to go looking for her (and I would have called, believe me, I just didn’t know the numbers), she was jauntily walking past the McDonald’s, car wash and ski store – all familiar landmarks that told her she was on the right track. Or road, in this case.
Taking a few deep breaths to calm my nerves, I try to help her understand my perspective. I, too, would have been a proud fourth grader had I been deposited several miles from my home and made it all the back on my own. I laud her troubleshooting skills. That was quick thinking to see the “Pasing” sign and recognize that it would point her towards home.
But would she please, pretty please, call me next time an emergency like that happens so I at least know where she is? In case something goes wrong, an accident happens or a grizzly bear makes its debut in Bavaria? Besides, some signs point you to places like Stuttgart, Berlin, or the North Pole – and she certainly wouldn’t want to embark on those trips without at least loading up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, right?
She agrees. And apologizes for making me worry.
Now that she’s safe at home, I realize that I’m pretty proud of my 10-year-old daughter for thinking on her feet. Looks like it’ll take more than a bomb to flummox this kid.