The unsung joys of being a carpool parent

Being the designated carpool parent has its drawbacks, but this mom finds that the time in the car with her kids and their friends offers her a window into their lives that she wouldn't trade for anything.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff Photo
During carpool hour after classes end at ICS, Jimmy Bridges (left) helps his daughter Marley (pink backpack) and friend Owen Capella (rolling backpack) into the car while holding daughter Sawyer, Decatur, Ga., Sept. 23, 2008.

I’m in the driving stage of motherhood. With three kids, I spend so much time behind the wheel that the driver’s seat of my minivan has molded to perfectly fit the shape of my ever-expanding behind. Because I work from home, and am thus freed from punching a time clock or being chained to an office chair, I drive not only my children, but everyone else’s too. Seldom is the day when I pull up to the curb of the junior high and pick up only my own kid. Usually one or two other teens tumble into the back as well. And although I occasionally resent being everyone’s go-to gal, driving around a gaggle of girls does present fabulous eavesdropping opportunities.

Usually, the kids forget I’m there, since I am, after all, only the bus driver. I hear snippets of conversation about friends, teachers, and classes. More importantly, I catch the rhythm of their banter. Hearing the jokes, sarcasm, and even the slang is a great help in later interpretations of my own kids’ conversation. The pecking order also becomes obvious by listening in.

But the most interesting rides are those times when I am driving only one of my three children. Twice a week, my teen and I spend an hour and a half together driving back and forth to her evening fencing lessons. There is something about being cocooned in a moving vehicle that encourages confidences. Freed from the inevitable interruptions and comments of her younger siblings, she talks. And talks. Sometimes she relates her triumphs and tragedies, or tells me of her hopes and fears. But mostly, it’s the little things that we don’t have time to talk about in our busy days; like the scoop on schoolwork or the latest drama with her friends.

My middle child, a tween, views car time with mommy as the perfect opportunity to unload every sad and negative experience she’s had since our last talk. These diatribes are usually accompanied by copious crying on her part – and the desire to cry on mine. However, when she hops out the van and slams the door, she is usually smiling, relaxed, and happy. This pouring out of her troubles seems to make her feel great, while leaving me exhausted and in need of a nap.

My son views our car rides as the time for twenty questions. I welcome conversation, but it can be difficult to formulate an answer to esoteric queries such as “If God made everything, then who made God?” while navigating traffic.

Although I have been known to complain about the cost of gas, the wear and tear on the van, and the feeling of being an unpaid chauffeur, I know this won’t last forever. Soon my kids will have their own keys to the car and I’ll be out of the driver’s seat. And, without the use of illegal spy technology, I’ll be out of the loop, too.

But for now, I’ll keep my job as Driver in Chief. The pay is terrible, but the benefits are terrific.

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