Thanks for the Ride

Author Ann Packer prepares to bid a fond farewell to a quotidian family ritual she never thought she would miss: the carpool.

Photo by Longview/Getty Images

The cartoon gave me a little shock of pleasure. In it, a woman sits behind the wheel of a car talking into a cell phone. The caption reads: “I thought that driving around all day picking kids up and dropping them off, then waiting for them, would be more fulfilling.”

Fulfilling? Any parent (and let’s stipulate that this is most often a mother) who is driving around all day picking kids up and dropping them off, then waiting for them, knows that the only thing getting filled is the gas tank. Or so I would have said not long ago. As the mother of two teenagers, ages 18 and 15, I’ve spent so many hours in the last two decades hauling kids from place to place that I’ve been approached by the local chapter of the Teamsters union. Carpooling is as ingrained in my routine as the buzzing of my alarm clock while it’s still dark out; the confusion of trying to make breakfast and lunch simultaneously (don’t ask about the time I served one of my kids a tuna fish sandwich at 7:00 a.m.); and the challenge of finding a new way to tell someone that three consecutive hours of screen time “isn’t good for your body.” In other words, it’s part of motherhood—a priceless and evanescent part, as it turns out.

I started carpooling occasionally when my daughter was about three or four. At that point in time, we were typically carpooling for the sake of carpooling: Sweetie, your friends are going to ride in our car today! The other mothers would hand me their kids’ car seats—the safe securing of which seemed to require an advanced degree in engineering. Prior to departure, mothers and children would exchange huge hugs, as if they were about to be parted for months. Then the moms would head off alone to their cars while ours, fully loaded, drove off. The hugs would be repeated once everyone’s car had reached the destination—the kids delighted by their bravery and the mothers oblivious to the fact that they were one small step closer to the great good-bye that comes when children acquire their own driver’s licenses.