Parenting rite of passage: The Carpool

Discovering the joy of the carpool is a major parenting milestone. I hated it when I was a kid. I was appalled by the idea in early adulthood. But just like naps, leftovers, and getting carded, eventually I changed my mind about the carpool, too. 

I may complain all day about how much time I spend in the car schlepping kids from place to place, but the truth is, this is where I learn what’s going on in their world. And, the more kids in the car (provided they’re not my own), the more info I get out of each trip around the outerbelt. 

Want to make sure your carpool delivers? Go big. We’re talking 4 passengers, minimum. You want enough kids in the car that they 1) play off each other’s personalities; 2) keep the conversation going even when one kid is out or in a mood; 3) provide a critical mass for taking sides.

Rules for creating a successful carpool

Getting the goods on your kid is just the beginning. Getting the system working in your favor will change your life. Enjoy all the new time you’ll have to think about the things you should be doing with your new-found free time — even though you lose your excuse for leaving work early, not working out, and grabbing dinner in the drive-thru. Just follow these rules so you don’t screw it up.

1. Prioritize compatibility

Punctuality is a dogma. Choose carpool partners with a timing philosophy that matches yours. Early people, you know who you are. Stick together. It’s easy to assume the most important factor is a short drive, but being compatible is essential. Even if it makes the drive longer. And even though another teammate lives three doors down, if it’s a get-there-in-the-nick-of-time family or, worse, a we’ll-get-there-when-we-get-there family, you are better off without them. Personality trumps geography. Trust me. Andrew may live 15 minutes from you in the opposite direction of where you’re going, but when his mom texts to say she’s picking up your kid 30 minutes early today because Waze notified her of potential closures and heavier traffic this evening due to a water main break, you’ll know you’ve found your tribe.

2. Look for larger families

Carpooling is the first language of families with more kids than drivers. They’re generous in helping you achieve fluency because it’s in their best interest. Since they’re always at someone’s practice, game, rehearsal or recital, they don’t do phone calls and are great texters, which makes it easier to ignore their comments about how complicated their lives are. Also, they’re quick to suggest a carpool schedule and flexible enough to change it when you need to. They know the best meet-up spots, and they’ve always got an extra of whatever your kid forgot. 

3. Embrace divorce

More households = more drivers. Don’t miss an opportunity to let another family’s misfortune make your life easier. Not just any divorce, either. Look for hostile split-custody situations. If each half of the divorced couple acts like a separate piece of the carpool puzzle, in a two-kid carpool, you’ll be dividing shifts by three. Add another kid or two and you can take a vacation. You’re welcome.

4. Keep quiet

Besides an over-the-top welcome and a hearty see-ya-later when kids (other than yours) enter and exit your vehicle, your audio level should be zero. Don’t sing with the radio. Don’t sing without the radio. Don’t talk to yourself. Don’t talk to the asshole who nearly ran your car off the road. Don’t use your horn. Don’t ask your child about school or friends, and especially not about practice. Don’t ask the other kids about the video they’re all laughing at on their phones. Don’t burp or fart (audibly). Don’t listen to political radio shows, and don’t forget to disconnect the Bluetooth of the sexy audiobook you’ve been listening to in the car while they’re at practice.

5. Take responsibility

What they don’t tell you about driving the carpool is that it has little to do with driving. During your shift, you are unwittingly committed to be the parent-like person for each child you transport. That’s before, during, and after practice. Make sure you’re willing to do this job with each child, even the one who talks about how much money his parents have and how he doesn’t have a bedtime. You’ll recognize him by the $300 shoes he’ll outgrow before the end of the season. Injuries, forgotten water bottles, and any form that the admin insists needs to be signed are yours to deal with. This should be obvious, but practice forging the other parents’ signatures.


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