Reflections from the Carpool Lane

I hate carpooling with the same exuberance as I hate bathing suit shopping.

Today my youngest child begins driver’s education. I am alternately terrified and overjoyed. Terrified because he is 16 and can’t figure out how to turn on the vacuum cleaner, yet he will be operating two tons of machinery on public roadways. Overjoyed because I will never again have to subject myself to carpooling. I hate carpooling with the same exuberance as I hate bathing suit shopping. You may be wondering why I have such a strong dislike for something that seems so innocuous. If you are you have clearly never endured the stress of being in a carpool. 

Carpooling is a necessary evil for many people who have babies at home or a work schedule that prohibits schlepping multiple offspring to and from school as well as baseball practice, French horn lessons, hip-hop class and Hebrew school. In order to have days when you have the luxury of not driving, you have to deal with complicated logistics and multiple schedules. As difficult as it can be to coordinate carpools, the politics of the carpool is much worse. Some of those hyper, type-A moms run their carpool with militant precision. You were 48 seconds late for preschool last Wednesday, no more carpool for you!” They remind of those nasty cliques in high school. If you meet their super-mom standards, you’re in, if you don’t, you’re out.

I started my many years of carpooling when my 20-year-old was in preschool and I remember walking the 4-year-olds, all holding hands, though the parking lot to the front door of the school. It was adorable in September when the sky was blue and there was a gentle breeze. In February, when I was carrying an infant and it was 10 below with 60-mile-an-hour winds while navigating ice and snow, it wasn’t nearly so adorable. Sure, it was only once or twice a week, but I was terrified one of those little ones would go flying on the ice. Plus, there was always a runner. You know, the kid that takes off as soon as his little Velcro sneakers hit the ground and you need to run after him while dodging moving vehicles and still holding onto the other half-dozen kids. 

By the time my younger son was ready for the preschool, parents no longer needed to park and walk across the parking lot because there was a carpool line. I was so relieved you would have thought there was a valet to open the door, hand me a vanilla skim latte, unhook the seat belts and whisk the kids into school. I didn’t recognize the carpool line for its true purpose, as an excuse for moms to gossip with other moms in trendy yoga outfits while leaning against their giant, idling SUVs. So much for saving time and reducing carbon footprints.

The need for carpooling doesn’t end as kids get older. By far the worst experience for me was carpooling for hockey practice. You haven’t lived until you have five smelly boys and their hockey equipment in your car in the middle of a Chicago winter. There is a choice to either open the windows and freeze to death or keep them closed and dry heave. I did, however, enjoy listening to their conversations. Apparently you are invisible when driving, so they will say anything. All you have to do is keep quiet and not make eye contact and you will learn who “likes” who, which teacher doesn’t take attendance, and tidbits about other parents you wish you don’t want to know but really kind of do. 

Although many parents do carpool at my son's school, I don’t and although I have to get up with the roosters to avoid getting stuck in line for 40 minutes, I am much less anxious since I don’t have to worry about other kids. I can also drive my son in my fuzzy slippers, no makeup and with my hair still pulled up in the scrunchie I slept in, and not frighten any child except my own.

Teresa Caldwell September 28, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Great article!
John L September 28, 2012 at 04:05 PM
If you are not a professional writer, you should be. Great and entertaining style:)
Dr. Mark Solomon September 29, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Susan, Like you - no more carpooling for me either. I have no sense of smell so the hockey part wouldn't have bothered me a bit. My daughter will turn 20 soon and I am finally starting to be able to think of things other than my G'D she is out driving. When she was 16, I became fond of watching young children in Starbucks, restaurants and malls - I suddenly had a newfound appreciation of all children who did not yet utter the words: GIVE ME THE CAR KEYS! Good luck to you and your son.
Susan Schaefer October 15, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Thanks Mark, I still haven't taken him for his permit test though. I though I would wait until he remembers to look before he crosses the street.


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