I am on my third tour of active carpool duty. I began in 2008, which makes me an expert on carpool etiquette, standards and expectations.
Laughing, are you? I would be too if I wasn't experiencing what I call "carpool conundrum syndrome." What is that, you ask?
It is a mystifying phenomenon that changes the most docile parents and their spawn (previously known as well-behaved children) into self-gratifying, judgmental beings.
This syndrome is tricky, so beware. No one is quite sure if it attacks in the middle of the night or when it's below 40 degrees. Some hypothesize that it has to do with approaching adolescence, while others feel it has to do with sleep deprivation and too much homework. Being on the inside track, I tend to think it has more to do with entitlement, expectations and humility.
In the early days of carpool, when I was the designated driver, the children and parents would arrive at 7 a.m.. Occasionally there was a straggler in the group along with grumblings about being tardy (which no one needed to worry about on my day -- AKA/ Amy Andretti). There was, however, a feeling of gratitude and sincere thanks. There were smiling faces, giggles as well as our fair share of backpack and seating struggles. In retrospect, it was a happy-go-lucky group. I do remember hearing comments about my driving uniform; flannels, fuzzy slippers and ponytail that resembled a pineapple on my head. That, topped off with a pair of snazzy shades, made me almost unrecognizable.
A year later, my daughter joined the carpool. The dynamics changed, since my son was now the only male in the group. The chatter switched from tae kwon do to Nick Jonas. I remember having to listen to the Mama Mia soundtrack ad nauseum.
Time passed and the kids got to school safe and sound.
Jump ahead three short years. (I had a three-year carpool respite, although my car still resembled a petri dish).
It's my 11-year-old daughter's first carpool experience. We joined an already existing carpool with parents that I causally knew from prior PTA functions. A few weeks passed and slowly, but surely, issues began to arise.
There was an automobile change and soon, a seat designed for three was transformed into a seat for four via the "squishing the skinniest kid in the seat method."
Then came the issue of double-buckling. It was safe if they were buckled, right?
That situation was quickly resolved. (I drive her myself that day).
Shortly thereafter, a new protocol was adopted. Whoever was driving that day was to bring snacks for the five passengers in the carpool. This seemed like a reasonable undertaking. After a long day at middle school, the kids were hungry and deserved a snack for the ride home.
I didn't think much of this at first. So, on my carpool day, I grabbed five chocolate chip granola bars and threw them in my purse.
Pickup was uneventful as the children got in the car chatting away about a child who was sent to detention for calling a teacher mean. It was a typical day until "it" happened. My daughter asked what I brought for snack. I pointed to my purse and told her to open it. She peaked in and suddenly, her eyes grew big and the car grew silent.
Did I do something? Was everyone OK in the back seat? Did I forget anyone at school?
"What's the matter"? I asked. "Hand out the granola bars. I brought chocolate chip! Your favorite!"
She handed out the bars with great trepidation as the car oozed with an eerie silence.
I watched in the rearview mirror as my passengers unwrapped their bars and exchanged glances of disapproval.
I quickly caught on and in all of my Brooklyn glory exclaimed, "Does anyone remember the words 'thank you'? There are children starving all over the world!" (at least I didn't say there were children starving in India).
Anticipating a round of thank-you's, I was flabbergasted when I was asked, " What else did you bring?"
I couldn't decide what was worse, my daughter's stares or the ache that was brewing on the left side of my head.The rest of the car ride was quiet and the topic wasn't brought up again.
The next day, my daughter got dropped off wearing a huge smile.
"Matt brought us chocolate cream puffs from an organic bakery in Brentwood."
On Tuesday, a parent brought a variety of tea sandwiches and Swiss chocolates.
The days were passing and I was hearing about Gouda cheese and rosemary crackers and personal pan pizzas topped with imported Italian cheeses. (That wiped out my Ritz and cheese wiz idea). Was I supposed to bring a sushi platter with green tea ice cream for dessert?
I quickly felt the syndrome attacking. I had less than a week to decide what I was going to bring for carpool.
Chips with salsa? No, they'd know that I got the big bag of chips from Costco.
Leftover Halloween candy? No to that; those snicker bars are mine -- all mine!!
It was all happening so fast. My carpool day was approaching and panic was setting in. I wanted my daughter to consider me the Rachel Ray of the the carpool. I needed her to be proud. I wanted to be the winner of the "Best Snack Mom of the Year" award.
I was exhausted from the pressure, from potential menus as well as Thanksgiving leftovers.
And then it hit me. Not only was I attacked by the carpool conundrum, but the Jonses' as well. They had come to visit, asked me to race and I was desperately trying to keep up. How did this happen to such a consciously self-aware woman such as myself? This had to end.
I got to school early that day and found a great parking spot. I opened the trunk of my gas-guzzling Suburban and laid a lovely tablecloth across the back. I quickly assembled a pseudo -Thanksgiving feast. There was turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. I even brought fancy cloth napkins from home.
The children slowly approached the car and stared, along with other pedestrians. Knowing they were hungry, I invited them to grab a plate and dig it. I knew they had a hard day at school and were undeniably famished.
A passerby smiled and gave me a "Happy Thanksgiving" shout-out and with that, I offered him a drumstick. My passengers didn't seem to be interested in what I brought so I made myself a plate and sat on the curb to feast. A moment or so later, my daughter was next to me with a plate full of turkey and trimmings.
"My mom's stuffing rocks! You should try it."
After a few whispers, my passengers grabbed a plate and the feast commenced. One of them even asked if there was any more cranberry sauce.
On the way home, the girls were laughing about our picnic feast and asked when we could do it again.
I got that sideways glance from my daughter once again and replied with, "Thanksgiving comes once a year, next week, it's back to granola bars, wait till you try the oatmeal raisin!"