Carpool Tutorial

My youngest son is turning 16 this year, which gives me pause. There’s an empty nest on the horizon, which will be proceeded by college application mayhem. But, before that, he will drive. His driving a car will undoubtedly bring on the next-level ulcer I’ve been waiting for, but it also signals the end of my nearly 24 year career as a chauffeur to children. My Volvo and I (this is my third, but certainly not final Volvo) have learned a few things in our decades of driving kids around. Namely, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do carpool.

Should you carpool? For sure. There have been few things that make my blood boil more than pulling up to basketball practice and seeing my neighbor’s car in front of mine. Both of us bundled up against the elements when one of us could be home on the couch. Carpooling conserves our precious resources, not the least of which is the mother’s sanity.

You’ll find yourself in a carpool group text, and the question will be: Which way do you want to drive? If possible, you should always answer “to,” not “from.” Say it like you’re doing everyone a big favor, “Oh I’d be happy to take them, my pleasure,” but the truth is that dropping kids off is a piece of cake. You gather up the clean children from the comfort of your car and drive them to the birthday party. You pull up in front, and they get out. If this happens to be a little kids’ party, you might be required to park and walk them in. But the second you get there, they will run in to join the fun and will thereafter be the problem of whoever is in charge.

The person with the real problem is the one who agreed to pick them up. She shows up at the party’s end to find the party’s not quite over and two of the kids are missing. She socializes a bit with the other waiting moms, reminds the kids in her care to say thank you, and then herds their sugared-up selves into her car. Halfway home, one of the kids will remember he left his Pokemon cards or sweatshirt behind, and she’ll have to turn around. Apologies, because that’s usually my kid.

In the case of sports practices in particular, start times are sharp, and end times are loose. I’ve arrived at the 6pm end time and sat in my car for 30 minutes waiting for practice to actually end. It took me years to figure out that the better strategy is to make the kids wait. They can totally handle it. Now I stay cozy in my house with my dog until I get a text that practice is over. My son and his pals have to wait 5 minutes for me to arrive, and I have waited not at all.

I shouldn’t have to remind you, but depending on the age of your children, don’t talk. Like don’t say anything. “Hello” followed by the name of the child getting into the car is okay, but still a little iffy. They will thank you as they get out of the car. Try to stick with “You’re welcome.” On days when I’ve been feeling a little whimsical, I’ve said things like “No problem, Sweetie” and it has not played well. If you take one piece of advice from this article, don’t say Sweetie.

Once, a child of mine complained that he hated carpooling because it takes so much longer to get there. Yes, I told him, this is why some people opt to travel by limousine rather than by bus. Of course he would rather I drove him directly to his destination and picked him up and drove him directly home, but carpooling is one of the very tiny ways I find to put my needs above my children’s. Trading a little inconvenience on their part for a little convenience on mine feels like just the small win I need.