Life is a Highway…When You’re a Carpool Parent

There’s nothing quite like driving the 5th-grade boys’ sports carpool.

What? A van load of five or six tweens doesn’t sound like a blessing? I just didn’t realize how sweet it was until I started driving the 7th-grade boys around. Teenagers. Now my vehicle smells like teen spirit (not in a good way) and I mostly drive in silence because either the kids are on their personal devices or they have forgotten how to talk. Or both.

The Sweet Sounds of 5th-Grade Car Pool

But not the eleven-year-olds. Sure, I might have to deal with a little flatulence and some stinky feet (strict rules for shoes ON), but even post-workouts the cargo still smells like sweaty kids, not like man-children. And, those fifth-grade boys can talk. They forget I am even in the car, and so I just have two jobs: shut up and drive safely. As my husband or I shuttle the teammates across south-central Indiana we hear all sorts of things from sports stats to school gossip, from imitations of their coaches to questions about girls: “Who do you like?”(…wait for it…) “My dog, Rosie.” Ahhhhh, 5th-grade boys.

Occasionally, I will interrupt and redirect the conversation if I feel it crosses the line from teasing to meanness, involves unkind speak of another, or the talk is something I believe is inappropriate. For the most part, though, I just chauffeur the troops, trying not to bemoan the hours I’m spending in the car for my children as a glorified, unpaid Uber driver (and with no way to rate my passengers.)

Then, I remember! My son is in a carpool! That means my husband and I get a break from the road because we share the responsibilities with other families. That means we have nights off from driving so we can spend time with each other, catch up on work, watch our favorite show, OR… drive carpool for the other kid.

It Takes Work and Sacrifice

A good carpool doesn’t just drive itself, however. Sometimes setting up the logistics only involves a few texts. Many times there is a flurry of messages. I’ve set up Google docs for the more intricate carpools, and I’ve recently been introduced to an App called Carpool-Kids. In addition to the organizational headache it can cause, at times carpooling doesn’t seem all that convenient for ME. Some days it means earlier mornings and later nights when I’m the one driving or when we’re the first to be picked up and last to be dropped off. But, each family shares in this responsibility as it is able, and we know that we drive for the greater good. The primary goal is to help to lift the parenting load. I am so very thankful for my carpool community. I love my moms and dads and coaches who are real pick-kid-ups throughout the year. They often offer un-scheduled driving help. Not feeling well? We’ll get him! Spouse away? No problem. At his sibling’s activity? We’ll grab him. On that side of town! We’re on our way.

What about The Littles?

Of course, carpooling is trickier with The Littles because of car seats, boosters, and the extra attention young children need. But, with a little foresight, it is doable. I admit it was a little challenging that time when a seven-year-old got into my van and declared, “I don’t need a booster.” However, I lovingly explained that it was my car and my rules. Every child needed a booster seat, and I directed her to the spot with the spare booster. It was equally challenging for my boys when I made them bring their booster seats with them when they rode in another’s vehicle. Although they were not in my car, I upheld my rules (based on state laws and the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.) That’s why, today, even in my 5th-grade carpool, no one rides in the front seat. This may seem a bit draconian, but, as a carpool Mama, my first responsibility is to get those kids to their destination safely. The complimentary car dancing is secondary.

Know Your Driver

While carpooling is awesome in the way it saves time, is good for the environment, and promotes community, know your driver. Have you SEEN him or her drive? Do you know if he/she likes to have a cocktail or two before heading out? What goes on in the car? Are the kids watching movies that your family has decided are inappropriate? (Or downright scary to a nine-year-old?) It’s okay to opt out of ride-sharing. It’s also good to have the adult conversation with your fellow carpoolers about what you expect and what you feel comfortable with. How do you feel about the teenage brother driving? That’s a question I now must answer. I’m also grappling with the realization that in the not-too-distant future my own sons will be in high school. Very soon they will coordinating their own carpools and hopping in cars with kids and teammates and, one day, driving themselves. Gulp.

But for now, I keep calm and carpool on. Because sometimes, if I’m lucky, those 5th-graders will start singing along to what’s playing on the radio and I have my own carpool karaoke. Now, if only we had some HOV lanes…


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