Stuck In The School Pick-Up Car Clusterfest


Every day, while our elementary-school children are still in the throes of gluing macaroni to paper and counting dried beans, cars stack up in two-by-two formation outside, waiting in the “Car-Riders” line as early as 55 minutes before the last bell rings.

In that time, the children will master that day’s “sight words” and fill up on their share of paste… while I stare mindlessly into the ass of the car in front of me, which has a bumper sticker reading, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view doesn’t change.”

When Ava started kindergarten, I had no idea that I’d be spending approximately 9,000 minutes waiting in my car. I hate waiting, and I’ve never been good at it. I clench my molars, breathe rapidly and scrunch my shoulders up to my ears. I know psychosis has set in when I start to do math equations (I’m an English major). The other mid-pack parents (those in cars 30 through 60) look as anxious as I do, their hands gripping the wheel and their eyes darting wildly to anticipate the moves of the worst kind of parent: the illegal jumper/merger.

And FYI – I don’t see waiting as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy feeling “present” in my day. I don’t want to be present while trapped in a car calculating the gallons of gas I’m burning up. I want to be present while laying by the pool with a dewy glass of sangria in my hand.

On the first day, I cleaned my glove compartment. I organized my CDs on the second day and my parking change on the third. By day four, I was so desperate for something to do, I strung together a necklace from the Cheerios stuck to the back of my seat. At this point, all I can really do is obsess about how stupid it is that I’m sitting in line – again.

Even worse, I can’t seem to master the timing. The first day of school, I got in line too late and was one of the last parents to pick up her kindergartner. I know this, because my daughter said so in between her sobs. So I vowed that I would do better, which means getting to Car-Riders before Ava’s friend Gabrielle gets picked up. I’ve tried at least six different routes. I’ve tried the left line. I’ve tried the right. Her mom lives down the street, so I can see when she leaves. And inevitably, I’m always behind Gabrielle’s mom even when I leave five minutes before her.

I am a mutant. One of the X-Men. My power is the ability to pick the slowest line on the planet.

For example, I will choose the shortest checkout line in Target and without fail the person in front of me will need to get a price, exchange a faulty item, or worst of all, write a check. You know the kind – the woman who waits until all her merchandise is rung up and then she acts surprised when she hears the total as if she wasn’t sure if she’d have to pay this time. Then she spends 15 minutes digging for a pen in the pharmacy she calls a purse. But of course she doesn’t have ID, because in the past – where she is from – you didn’t need it.

Listen lady, unless you arrived at Target in a Delorean, step aside. But she doesn’t. She appears before me in every line I ever stand in. Like she is stalking me from 1985.

Today was different, however. By some act of God (a lady with cash and exact change!), I found myself in the coveted position of car #15. I took a minute to survey the landscape from my new vantage point. The finish line was already within sight. There was no threat of jumpers or mergers. We were like thoroughbreds lined up in the stall, just waiting for the gates to fly open. The other parents had content, Zen-like expressions on their faces.

Sure getting there early cost me an extra ten minutes, but not once did I calculate how that extra time would figure into the year’s total. Instead, I rolled down the window, turned off the car and began to write.

It felt like only seconds before I saw Ava walk out to the curb and wave to me. I guess that’s all I really wanted – to get my baby back in my arms. To know that she wasn’t put in the wrong car and shipped down to Florida. It’s not a bad system, but I also think a retina-scan is a reasonable means for identification. I need a photo ID to buy Sudafed, but all I need to pick my kid up from school is a piece of card stock with her name written on it with a Sharpie.

And being up front felt good. Like flying first-class and getting stuck on the tarmac. You don’t care because there’s an open bar. I imagined I was surrounded by parents who have it all figured out. They’re the ones who remember to cut the crust off the bread and put their kids in tennis shoes rather than ballet flats on gym day. Their children have spots reserved for them at Harvard or Yale.

It feels good to be in the presence of greatness – so good that waiting suddenly doesn’t feel so bad.



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