The Tyranny of Carpooling
Sigmund Freud says we owe our children travel, education and nice clothes.
Judaism says we owe them a religious and ethical upbringing.
But who says we owe them carpooling?
Who says that after years of catering to them and carting them around, we aren’t entitled, as Howard Beale, the newscaster in the film “Network,” urges, to roll down our car windows, lean out and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Nope, I’m not going to take being chained to an SUV and a restrictive time schedule. I’m not going to take listening to the incessant bickering over who sits in front, who picks the radio station and whose backpack is blocking whose way. And I’m not going to take using my car as an office, complete with telephone, coffee cup holder and Post-it Notes.
Worse, I’m not going to take the fact that during 12 years of carpooling, to and from school alone, I’ve driven — trust me, I’ve checked the math — the equivalent of seven round trips to New York City. But instead of Mount Rushmore, the Mississippi River and the Statue of Liberty, I pass the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and six gas stations.
But gripe as I might, I still have to take a couple of more years.
And that’s why 20 moms and one dad from Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School are sitting in my living room and inserting push pins, each representing a respective address, into a 2-by-3 foamboard-backed Thomas Brothers map of the San Fernando Valley.
We are attempting to figure out how to transport our collective 30 children, entering grades kindergarten through eight in September, from the 91436 zip code in Encino to the corner of White Oak and Devonshire in Northridge. We are trying to do this in the most efficient, cooperative and least obviously selfish way possible.
I watch the four moms with incoming kindergartners, who are new to the school. Nervous and naïve, they don’t know what it’s like to find chewing gum stuck to their leather interior. They don’t know what it’s like to wait impatiently for a chronically late kid or to have their own youngster learn new and creative words for body parts and bodily functions. And they don’t know what it’s like to have another mom forget to pick up carpool one afternoon.
“Tell me that the driving isn’t that bad,” one of the new moms says to me.
“It is that bad,” I answer. “But it’s worth it.”
But I wonder, in hindsight, if I would commit to driving my four sons to a school 12.5 miles from my house for a total of 14 years. I wonder if this is really the cruel and unnatural price we have to pay for living in this sprawling city with the country’s worst traffic congestion.
“What do you do?” people often ask me.
“I drive carpool,” I answer in my more whimsical, or wacky, moods. “I have excellent references.”
Yes, carpooling has become my identity and, it appears, my destiny. As a result, I’ve become comfortable with the fact that I’m never going to win the “coolest mom in the carpool” contest. Indeed, with no compunction but with some embarrassment to my sons, I’ve outlawed chewing gum, food, fighting, rap music and excessive noise.
In essence, I’ve outlawed fun.
For me, the purpose of carpooling is merely to transport a group of kids to and from school in a safe, civil and timely manner. Nothing more.
But that’s not entirely true.
For carpooling has enabled me, as Judaism commands, to provide my children with a religious and ethical upbringing at a Jewish day school in which they have thrived.
It has also enabled me, as Freud recommends, to provide them with travel and education. And while the travel is tedious and repetitive, the education, experiential and often unexpected, is not.
Over the years, my children have learned to be prompt, flexible and amicable. They have learned to shut a car door without slamming it. They have learned to say please and thank you.
Additionally, over the years, they have learned to deal with a variety of personality traits and quirks. And they have learned that, while some parents and kids can be rude and manipulative, others, perhaps the majority, can be extraordinarily generous, thoughtful and accommodating.
As for the nice clothes that Freud advocates, those are for me. I’ll need them in exactly six years, when my youngest gets his driver’s license and I trade in my SUV for a two-seater sports car.