Well, now school is well underway, and we parents are all settling in to the routines. Around Chez Counce, this time of year combined with three elementary school students means transportation issues. The school is too far away and across a state highway, so walking is out. And since buses are just little episodes of Lord of the Flies waiting to happen (and related: no seat belts? Little monitoring? Do you know what felonies my children can commit under such circumstances?), our transportation options are narrowed to only one: carpool.
Carpool. If you are a parent, the word has the capability to strike fear and loathing into your heart. “Carpool” is just a pleasant euphemism for “Long, boring, insufferable wait in the sun’s glare, affecting a carbon footprint the size of Sasquatch’s, to crawl more slowly than one can walk to collect your inevitably surly children.” The carpool is not for the feint of heart.
Having participated in two schools and four years’ worth of carpool, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the subject. Indeed, as a scientist in the field, I have, over time, noted that there are some rather distinct categories of carpool parent. Do you recognize yourself ?
The Camper. First mom in line. She’s been parked since lunch, has War and Peace to read and her iPad in her lap toggling between Twitter and Facebook. She’s got the family dog to keep her company and hang out the window. She’s got CNN on her satellite radio and plenty of disposable income that allows her to hang out in the school parking lot for hours a day. She may also possibly have a coffee pot and a straight iron plugged into her cigarette lighter. She’s in for the long haul.
Mad Max. Max is here to pick up his kid in his jacked up truck decorated with stickers who leave no question regarding his religious and political affiliations, whose exhaust pipe is belching pollution directly into your windshield while creating the noise of 20 Harleys. Max likes to occasionally rev his engine inexplicably and randomly. Max may or may not have to drop a rope ladder out the passenger door to enable his child to climb in. Teachers back away as Max drives through lest his large vehicle crush an errant toe.
Speed Racer. This parent who either doesn’t know or care about school traffic zones and has no damns to give, Speed Racer will race around the carpool line, around the school, and back into line. Once his child is procured, watch his slalom other cars as he speeds out of the parking lot and back down the road. Speed Racer fears no police officer. However, the crossing guard is indeed terrified of Speed Racer.
The Improviser. Follow the school’s directions to line up your car? That’s for regular people! The Improviser can sneak a cut into line from a side street, a back alley, or over a curb. Why come early and follow the Little People’s rules when with only a little creative maneuvering and possibly a negligible amount of chassis damage you can shave a full five minutes off your wait? Carpool procedure, Schmarpool procedure. The Improviser’s motto: rules were made to be modified for my convenience.
The Sociopath. She’s in pajamas. You’re not sure she’s not come fresh from Happy Hour. She is occasionally in pajama pants and/or slippers. You know her child’s name because it is tattooed on her neck. About your feelings, she is unconcerned. She is grumpy, she is entitled, and you? You could fling your body in front of her minivan and she would run you over like so much middle-aged speed bump. She blocks intersections. She screams from the driver’s seat. She is liberal with her one-finger salutes. Provoked enough, she will emerge from her car to confront you through the window.
Chatty Cathy. Cathy likes to roll down her window and converse with every other parent in carpool. She will get out of her car and roam from car to car to socialize. She frequently is yelled at by The Sociopath when she holds up line after it gets moving and she’s too engrossed in her PTA meeting to notice and get back in her car. The best defense against Cathy is a magazine propped up in front of your face.
The Valet. This parent pulls up to pick up his kid and puts it in park. He gets out, circles the car to receive his child, removes his child’s backpack. Smiles, leans down, greets his child. A little small talk. He buckles the child in. He removes a snack for the child, perhaps opens a bag of chips, and unscrews the top to a bottle of water. Once Lord Fauntleroy is ready for transport with snack underway, then and only then does he saunter back around the car to slide back into the driver’s seat to mosey away.
The Clown Car. This adult lets out or somehow wedges into a vehicle no fewer than what must be fifteen children and backpacks each the approximate size of Vern Troyer. Space and physics are somehow altered. And finally:
The Innocent Bystanders. We follow the rules. We drive the appropriate and indicated speed. We grumble, but we put away our cell phones. We don’t drink in the car. We mind the teachers in the parking lot better than the most obedient first grader. We don’t cut in line, threaten to drag anyone from their car for a beating, or make up new school carpool lanes. We consider how our actions impact others. We just want to manage to not fall asleep and land on the horn while we wait.
We’re all in this together, folks, and we aren’t five. Let’s make a social agreement, shall we? Let’s act like grown-ups in front of the kids at carpool, huh? Let’s be aware of people around us and consider the idea we’re all in this together with the same rules and guidelines. I have faith in us being able to survive this school carpool thing together. But it takes a village to have proper protocol.