Many of you have been there: it’s 8am, the coffee has barely kicked in, and the kids need to be dropped off at school in half an hour. But not just your kids, because today is your turn to carpool! Every seat in the back of the minivan is filled, and even though the little voices are happy and chirpy there are just. so. many. of them.
You curse the coffee mug you forgot on the kitchen counter, and as you make the last turnoff onto the country road, you think about how lovely and quiet and peaceful and quiet the drive home will be. Then you remember that you are on carpool duty for the trip home this afternoon as well.
We only have two kids, but when we were shopping for our last car, we opted for a minivan. We knew that before long, the time would come when we would need room for a couple more pint-sized travellers, and once we moved out to the cornfield, our fate as carpoolers was sealed. I don’t mind hauling the kids and their gear from place to place — carpooling is convenient, environmentally friendly, and fun for the people in the back seats — but there is a code of conduct that must be followed, before, during and after the ride.
You have to make sure the vehicle is in tip-top shape when the cargo is so precious. Every passenger must be aware of the rules while inside the car — seatbelts buckled, hands stay inside, and no shenanigans that might distract the driver.
I’m not just talking about comfort, although that’s important too. I mean, have some fun on the way. If the kids have stopped fighting over music selections, play games, watch a DVD or — gasp! Talk to your small passengers. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
It has to be, because sometimes the kids have no choice but to eat on the run. But be mindful of the snacks you send for eating in the car. Drinks should have a tight fitting lid, and food should not be crumbly, sticky, drippy, goopy, runny, or icky. Oh, and there should be extra for the driver.
Or the sweaty, smelly stuff, or the feet on the seat or the dirt on the feet. Carpool ain’t no place for control freaks, and your carpooling vehicle should be able to handle the stuff that your carpooling charges throw at it.
As far as I’m concerned, the driver is always in charge of three things: the route, the temperature, and the music. This means that if you like the scenic route, that’s the one you take; if you are hot, the air goes on; and if you are in the mood for some John Denver at top volume, so be it. However, when carpooling, it really is best for all involved to borrow a tween’s iPod and let them go boy band crazy in the back seats. Just make it known — any fighting over the tween beat hit parade and it’s back to Annie’s Song for everybody.
Carpooling cannot just be a one-way street (wakka wakka). Even if you are the family that lives the farthest out of town, carpooling only works if all families involved take turns. Maybe you schedule the driver/vehicle/family by weeks or activities, or maybe the situation is more spontaneous and flexible. Either way, if one driver feels the burden is always on them, you can be sure that you are in the fast lane to a total carpooling shutdown. And nobody wants that.
Carpooling is a grudging necessity for some, a way of life for others. Either way, sometimes, it’s just gotta be done.
Carpooling means the responsibility of caring for other kids and ensuring they reach their destination safely.
Two years ago, my family made a choice. Premeditated only in our need for change, we sold our house, I quit my job and we moved 300km away. The change we made might have been bigger than the change we needed, but it led us to discover a new way of living, and a new way of being together. We’ve had our challenges and our disappointments, but the choice we made two years ago is one we have never regretted. It was scary, it was hard work, but it was worth it.
Because here’s the thing about choices: sometimes they are a confrontation, forced upon us; unwanted, and sometimes they are a gift, needed, desired, required. But either way, a choice is an opportunity. An opportunity to make a change.
An opportunity to take a chance.
I remind myself of this every time I am faced with a new situation, a new challenge, or a new choice, because sometimes the simple act of walking into a room feels like taking a bigger chance than changing our entire life did.
Moving away from Toronto was the ultimate act of leaving my comfort zone, but joining the book club here at our local library filled me with a great deal more anxiety. Partly it was because the circumstances were not purely logistical, and I would be forced to navigate personalities, not a check-list of tasks, and partly it was because unlike putting our house up for sale and opening the doors of it to strangers, I was putting myself on display, and opening myself up to the judgment of strangers.
Turns out, I hated the book we read. It was terrible, but I couldn’t exactly say that to people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me. I told my husband that I thought I shouldn’t go, that I wouldn’t know how to be diplomatic enough to communicate my distaste for the book without offending somebody. He told me that I should just be myself; keep smiling, and maybe, this once, to listen more than I spoke. So I went.
I stood at the door to the library boardroom, took a deep breath, smiled, and walked in. Unsurprisingly, we had a great meeting. In a room full of strangers I didn’t necessarily mesh with every single one of them, but our shared interest in books, and a ready-laid groundwork for discussion meant that the evening went well.
The next day, in the schoolyard, I was chatting with a few other moms, when the topic of a popular reality show came up. Did you watch it, one of the other moms asked me, and before I had a chance to reply, my five-year-old daughter chimed up. “My mom wasn’t home last night, she went to the book club even though she hated the book!” I gave her a huge smile and corroborated her story. “That’s right, I was,” I said as the bell rang.
We headed towards the doors of the school, and as I held my daughter’s tiny hand in my own, I thought about two things — number one, that children have no filters and will pipe in at any time, so I should make sure she doesn’t know anything I don’t want her to broadcast to the schoolyard, and number two, that my kid was proud of me. I was modeling behaviour I wanted her to carry into her life as well. I wanted her to see that I could do things that weren’t always comfortable, and that there were always opportunities to make choices, to take chances.
Sometimes, they led you to a new book club. Sometimes, they led you to an entirely new life.
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