The 10 Inevitable Stages of Carpooling with Kids

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

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An invitation to carpool is like an irresistible Siren’s song: You know going in that it’s not going to end well, but the prospect of a break from driving around in the same circles every day is so darned enticing. Who can resist?

Not me, that’s for sure. No matter how many times I swear off a carpool request, they just keep on sucking me back in. I’ve seen it all, and believe me: From the first twinkle in a desperate mom’s eye to the last empty Gatorade bottle rolling down the driveway, every carpool is the same.

Let me break it down for you, because it goes a little something like this …

1. The request comes in — and as per usual, it catches you off guard.

“Hey, what are you doing here? Your kid is signed up for the exact same activity as my kid, an hour away from our neighborhood? What a coincidence! You know what we should do? CARPOOL!”

Actually, it’s not a coincidence at all. Moms endlessly discuss which activities are can’t-miss and where to find the absolute best coaches/teachers/facilities/etc., so we all end up at the same place every single time. If it’s Tuesday, this must be chess club with Grandmaster Vinivichnakov.

2. “Quick,” someone says. “Who else can we get to join our carpool?”

There is sooo much unnecessary math required in carpooling — and I’m not even talking about the Math Club carpool. Unless you want your carpool to stall (heh heh) at the scheduling stage, heed these two all-important rules when recruiting drivers.

Rule No. 1: The number of drivers must relate to the number of trips in a sensible way. Don’t get fancy. You want the schedule to be something like this:

You take them there. I bring them home.

I drive Tuesday. You drive Thursday.

I drive the first Monday of the month. You take the second. She takes the third. He takes the fourth. The end.

Rule No. 2: Count the seats in your car. The total number of seats minus yourself and your kids equals the number of kids you can drive. You would be surprised by how many people overlook this crucial factor. Not feeling so smart now, are you, smart carpool people? NO CARPOOL FOR YOU.

3. Ask yourself: “Who do we not want in our carpool?”

One time a mom roped me into a carpool for band practice. First, she asked me to join. Then she asked me to invite the other parents. Then she asked me to do the schedule. Then it turned out she didn’t drive. (I highly recommend that you do not “carpool” with this woman under any circumstances, should you cross paths.)

Does anyone in your carpool have twins? *cough cough free riders cough cough* Aren’t they the cutest?

4. Scheduling the carpool.

You didn’t heed my Stage 2 rules, did you? Well, better charge your iPhone up, because it’s group text time, sister! There will be endless texts back and forth about who is available to drive when. The word “fair” will be thrown around. Someone will mention her work schedule, triggering a busy-battle in which every mom lists what every kid is doing every day of the week. If you like this sort of thing, grab the popcorn and take a seat. If not, put your phone in the linen closet with all the bleeping beeping toys you can’t figure out how to turn off.

The good news is, someone will eventually offer to email an official schedule. (SPECIAL NOTE: If you show any sign of weakness, this will be you.)

5. Rescheduling the carpool.

It was you, wasn’t it? You broke down and made a schedule. It is a thing of beauty. It’s perfectly fair in a way that takes account of every family’s needs, as well as traffic patterns, school holidays, religious observances, and the tides. Look at it. Love it. Give it a little pat. Because the second you send that sucker out, everybody is going to need changes. If you are lucky, there will be a couple of trades. Easy peasy. If you’re not lucky, you will eventually find yourself emailing the FIFTH AND FINAL REVISED OFFICIAL CARPOOL SCHEDULE NO FURTHER CHANGES ALLOWED.

6. Keeping your carpool pledge.

If your question starts with, “Do I still have to drive carpool if … ?” the answer is yes. Carpooling is a serious commitment. People are counting on you. I have driven carpool when my own kid was too sick to actually be in the carpool. My husband has walked out of meetings to drive a carpool. Joining a carpool is like joining the Marines, only we have way better hair. Carpool Fidelis!

7. Gathering carpool intelligence.

Yeah yeah, save the planet and all that, but the best reason to carpool is to spy on your own kid. There are two basic techniques for gathering actionable carpool intelligence:

  1. Be invisible. This is strangely effective, considering that you are up front at the steering wheel in a motor vehicle full of kids; but if you keep your eyes on the road and your lip zipped, your passengers will somehow forget you are there and behave as they do in the wild. When you overhear something juicy, you must resist the urge to say “What now?” and maintain your cloak of invisibility. Wait until later that night, when you’re tucking in your little one and then you can ever-so-casually ask, “Honey, what exactly did Addie mean when she said ‘Hos before bros?’”
  2. Find the weakest link. Chances are that one of these kids is an eager-to-please talker. Find out who it is and turn on the charm. They’ll tell you anything. P.S. You’re the best, Jeremy!

8. Employing carpool sensory deprivation techniques.

There comes a point where carpool becomes overwhelming. The squealing girls. The smelly boys. The chirps, bloops, and chungs of all the phones as the kids message one another — and yes, it’s about you, in case you were wondering. There’s only so much a mom can take.

But it’s bad form to scream while driving a car full of other people’s kids, so you have to do something. Open the window — open all the windows. Offer the children cash money to stop squealing, smelling, and/or texting. Stop at the drive-thru for a special treat (if you are driving teenage boys, this only works for 10 seconds, unless you order everything on the menu, in which case you get 20 seconds).

And never forget that music can soothe the savage beasts. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let them pick the station.

9. Decontamination.

You drove carpool in the salty slush, the rain, and the mud. There were snacks. There were drinks. Red drinks. There were science experiments and posters with glitter and magic marker that somehow got wet. There were cleats packed with the turf of a thousand fields. And on the hottest day of the year, they smelled so bad after practice that your eyes watered and why is the paint peeling now? It’s time for carpool decontamination. Wear gloves. And goggles. And a face mask. Good luck.

10. Swearing off carpools forever.

Holy crap, that was painful — you always ALWAYS get the absolute worst deal on every single carpool schedule. You’re not even sure if you’re speaking to one of the moms anymore. And your car so-clean now that it’s decontaminated! You’ll never carpool again, right? Just drive your own kids to the stuff they sign up for. Life will be so simple. This will be great.

But you did get to see your kid joking around with her friends. And they are such good kids, aren’t they? And they love to be together at this age. And you love that they love it.

“Hey, what are you doing here? What a coincidence! You know what we should do?”

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