Monday, July 06, 2015
Any of us who have children in sports knows that we can’t survive the schedules without participating in and depending on carpools. The more kids we add to the mix, the exponentially more we are tied to car pools. They are a boon when we aren’t driving and can be a bit of a nightmare when we are the drivers. On the other hand, carpools can be an interesting window into our kids’ lives as they chatter in the back and we can be a fly on the wall. Surviving the complicated social and logistical tangles of carpooling can make for some stressful and interesting experiences. There’s some tried and true methods for tackling the necessary evils, but first you have to understand the “Laws” of carpooling.
- A truck filled with watermelons or chickens or used frying oil will lose its load three cars in front of you;
- Corollary A: This will happen 200 yards after an exit and two miles before the next possible exit.
- Corollary B: You will never have cell service when this happens.
- Corollary C: One of your passengers will either need to pee or to vomit immediately.
- Your day to pick up from practice will be just three hours after a soaking thunderstorm when every kid is covered head to toe with mud.
- Corollary A: You just had your car detailed.
- Corollary B: The field is also covered in goose droppings.
- When it isn’t your carpool day, the assigned driver will cancel at the last minute.
- No matter how often you step in to help at the last minute, you will always be made to feel guilty when you can’t.
- Someone will forget something vital and realize it 20 miles down the road.
- The noise level in the car is directly proportional to the level of your headache.
Corollary A:The music choices will always metaphorically use more “cow bell.”
Corollary B:All kids will sing along and none have any musical talent.
- When you drive in temperatures above 80 degrees, the snack will be either Hershey Bars or popsicles.
- Corollary A: You just had your car detailed.
- Corollary B: No matter how many napkins or paper towels you have, they are never enough.
- If your car is due for a major breakdown it will happen when you have five kids late for a big game.
- Corollary A: You will never have cell service when this happens.
- Corollary B: All five kids will continually remind you that they are going to be late.
- Your turn to drive will invariably be for the event farthest away and the most difficult to reach.
- Corollary A: As with most soccer fields, the address is never precise.
- Corollary B: Your GPS will do a best guess on location which is often incorrect.
- Corollary C: Even with accurate directions, there will be an unexpected detour.
- Kids will say thank you and all too often parents won’t.
When you join a carpool, and most of us belong to at least two, there is an implied contract that has some delicate social parameters. Kids will be brutally honest with one another, so their conversations will be not only revealing, but possibly embarrassing as well. You will hear about fights that parents had, things the coach said, gossip on dozens of friends, and scores of tasteless jokes that everyone will find hilarious. The policy of “What’s said in the car, stays in the car” should always be honored. It’s best to remember that when someone else is driving they will be hearing about your family secrets. Likewise, you need to be careful about your comments. If you criticize the coach, another player, or another parent it will get back to them even if the ties to your passengers is tenuous at best. Imagine my shock when one kid once informed his coach while I was in earshot, “Mrs. Boyd says you don’t really give everyone equal playing time.” So mum’s the word when in the car. Then there are the things you don’t expect would cause problems. I found out that a song we played, “All Star” was taboo for one of my passengers when confronted by his mother. It didn’t have bad words, it wasn’t rap, but apparently it conveyed the wrong attitude by stating “she had an L in the middle of her forehead” i.e. she was a loser. If I decide to stop to get the kids a treat on the ride home I need to be sure that I’ve covered all the allergy and dietary restrictions. I discovered the hard way that what I thought was the perfect healthy snack, sugar-free frozen yogurt, turned out to be unacceptable for my one (unknown) vegan. Therefore, as a carpool driver you should politely check with every parent before doing what you think is something nice. It can unfortunately backfire otherwise.
The compact you “sign” when you join a carpool can truly be complex and unfair. For example there are three types of carpool parents: those who pull their weight; those who pull more than their weight; and those who vaporize when their turn comes up. I often wonder if these latter adults have some type of “Beam me up Scotty” device that transports them, sans children, to a destination far removed activated with just the word “carpool” being spoken. They are the parents who claim to be incredibly busy though busy often translates into attending spin class and having a pedicure. The rest of us, who really are busy juggling several children’s schedules, a job, and getting uniforms washed, manage to handle the duties. Don’t expect these ghosts to feel any guilt; that vaporizes as well. But they are experts at slathering on the guilt to everyone else. When you join a carpool the concept of fairness doesn’t apply. I know when I was offered the straws, they were all short. You’ll get the longest trips, the games that get cancelled as soon as you arrive, the kids who get car sick, the kids who hate each other yet sit next to each other, the last-minute emergencies, and the hysterical child who loses his homework at the field. The best way to handle this all is to take a lesson from “Frozen” and let it go. Carpools are necessary evils that, despite the rough roads, at least ensure that your child always gets to travel. You won’t be able to negotiate better terms, but you will get some really precious moments that ultimately outweigh all the troubles.
I’m talking about being an important part of the conversation and activity that goes on in the car. Making connections with their friends in this safe and confined environment means that you have links with them well into their teens. Your own children somehow feel freer to open up to you as if you are now one of the gang. Something magical happens when those doors close. I loved monitoring and occasionally joining in on the conversation. My repertoire of ridiculous jokes doubled: Where does the Easter Bunny eat breakfast? IHOP. My repertoire of bodily function jokes quadrupled: Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet? He was looking for Pooh. I also got the chance to nip bullying and disrespect right when they happened, the best way to teach object lessons. “You guys don’t need to resort to name-calling. You’re smarter than that.” Getting to know the teammates on a more personal level gave me a greater investment in the games. I got to cheer on Teddy who had the bright idea to try to open my sliding van door while we were moving. It didn’t open but it set off an alarm that dinged for the 10 minutes it took to reach the field. Teddy whose red face matched his red hair ran onto the pitch while everyone else was still laughing at his shocking (potentially dangerous) behavior. I learned how much Michael wanted his dad to like soccer and come to just one game, so I cheered extra hard for him. I found out what girls like my sons and which girls they liked, usually not the same. Clear into college when I’d run into kids from the various carpools they would remember some fun detail from our trips back and forth. So you can relish those moments that are solely yours, fleeting, and special. I could do without the number of jokes crowding my brain, although those jokes do make me a bit of hit with my grandkids.
If we have kids, we are almost assured of joining a carpool at least once in our youth sports experience. It’s a given that you’ll have a ton of frustrating incidents that usually stem from adults rather than the kids. Keeping a sense of humor helps; certainly the kids have a sense of humor albeit a bit warped. If you expect thanks from your peers, disavow yourself of that fantasy. In fact the thanks you receive from them is generally inversely proportional to the effort you expend to transport their kids. On the other hand kids almost always shouted “Thanks Mrs. Boyd” as they leapt from the car. No matter the trouble and the thanklessness, I loved the carpools I did, loved the kids I drove, and learned to love the quirks of the parents because I’m sure they felt I was also quirky. If you aren’t in the right mood when it’s your turn to drive, here’s a few jokes to perk you up.
- What sounds do porcupines make when they kiss? Ouch!
- What do you get when cross a chicken and a pit bull? Just the pit bull.
- The teacher asks the class to use fascinate in a sentence. One boy eagerly raises his hand. “My coat is so small I can only fasten eight of the buttons.”
Those should give you a good head start in surviving any carpool.