I haven't written about the stresses/joys of carpooling in a while and that is because we just aren't carpooling as much as we used to. Gordy and I made the executive decision to cut back on the number of activities our family was participating in, miraculously cutting our driving commitments by half as well. Georgia was the first to whittle down her activities - she quit her town soccer team over a year ago and now just does club soccer and flute lessons and she recently started working on the Middle School Newspaper (which is an activity that is done in the school building and needs no additional driving).
Eliminating just that one team was so freeing and so satisfying that we had Josie and Henry cut back on their team commitments too. Henry is playing only town hockey this season - which gives him more time to finish the increased high school homework load when he gets home from school at 6:30pm. Josie plays on two teams (down from three (and potentially four)): she plays on her girls club hockey team and she still plays on her town soccer team and takes cello lessons. We're busy, but it's nothing like the busy we were last year or the year before.
But here is the real startling result of cutting back on sport activities: we are down to one - ONE - carpool. Whereas picking up / dropping off children, coordinating with other parents and keeping a close-watch on my ever-present calendar used to be my daily norm, now I am really only doing the carpool dance for one week of every month and the actual chore of driving the carpool is so much easier than it used to be.
Last year, Georgia's soccer team had six girls from our town in one carpool. We parents divided up the schedule in week-long blocks. You were on duty, driving for both practices during one week and then you were off for five weeks. It was a good system but only during one's off weeks. The week that you were on driving duty was a living nightmare. These are nice girls from nice families, don't get me wrong, but any time you get six fifth graders together in a small, enclosed space, it's going to be loud and boisterous... and exhausting for the adult. Our biggest car holds seven people, so on the weeks that I drove the carpool, I'd have to find someplace for Josie to be while I did the driving. There was no room in the car for her and she was too young to be left at home on her own. Finding someone to take Josie wasn't as easy as you would think - and most of the time, she had some activity to be at during those carpool times, herself. How do you ask a friend to watch your child AND ask her to drop Josie off at the hockey rink after an hour? I never figured that out.
Last year's carpool was way too big. Our car was so filled with children that I had to institute a "no changing your clothes in the car" rule that a few of the girls repeatedly broke, insisting on changing from their street shoes and socks into their soccer cleats and soccer socks during the trip which inevitably led to a shoe or a random pair of socks to be left on the floor of my car which I would find the next day (or days later, if we are really being honest). Guess who would then have to carve out more time from their busy schedule to bring the items to the child's house? Me. That's who.
After the second time that I was playing this lost-and-found game, I declared my car to be a Changing-Free Zone. As each girl got to the car, I'd say "Make sure you have ALL YOUR GEAR ON. There is no more changing in my car. There's not enough room for you to change without hitting your neighbor in the head and if you are already completely dressed, you won't leave anything behind when we get to the field. The same rule will apply to our return trip home. No more removing of cleats and shin guards in my car. Wait until you are in your own home before you get comfortable."
And then I encountered the other thing I hate about carpools - the bigger the group, the more likely the child will feel emboldened to back-talk. One girl let me know that that wasn't the rule in HER mother's car. (my response: great for her!) and two others just disregarded me and changed their clothes anyway.
Ahh. Good times.
This year, things are so different. We have only four girls in our carpool (the one huge team was divided into two teams who practice on different days) and while we do miss those other girls - who were fun and lively - the smaller number makes carpooling quieter and less stressful. Josie fits into the car once more, so I no longer have to scramble to find a home for her and while the changing situation hasn't stopped (and my rule has been completely thrown out the window), it's easier to have the detritus of only three children (as opposed to five) remaining in my house and car after my week is over.
On Mondays, the girls meet after school and walk up to our house where they have a snack, change their clothes and do some homework before we have to leave for practice. On Thursday, practice is much later in the evening and we just pick everyone up at their own house. It's simple and pleasant.
The same can not be said for Josie's hockey club carpool, sadly. And not because there are too many girls or that they are really loud or constantly forgetful.... it's the lack of all these things that is the problem. We don't have a carpool at all for Josie's hockey and it's a real pain. Josie is the only girl from our two (or any surrounding town) on her team and there's no one to carpool with. There's nothing like not having someone to share driving responsibilities with to make you appreciate your one week on - three weeks off soccer routine. I'd even happily drive six girls again if it meant that I didn't have to drive 30 minutes away to the hockey rink three times a week!
That's the thing about carpooling: you can't live with it and you can't live without it. It's a necessary evil of raising children in the suburban US. And short of our children quitting everything and staying at home bothering me twenty-four hours a day, or us winning the lottery and hiring three chauffeurs to move the children from point A to point B, it's my life right now.... still.