There are many awkward situations one will face throughout the emotionally unstable, pimple-laden journey that is growing up. One of those situations is most likely carpooling. It is a forced togetherness based solely upon proximity and convenience, nothing more. In my case, I was stuck riding to school with various families throughout elementary school, none of whom were friends or even kids in my grade. But most of the time, the awkwardness didn't even come from the lack of commonality I shared with the other kids riding with me. It came from their parents.
One of the reasons my husband and I bought our minivan earlier this year, despite having only two children, was so we could carpool. Now I find myself in the front seat, in the distinct position to create the climate of an uncomfortable mobile holding cell for our riding guests. For the sake of my children, that is the last thing I want to do. Thankfully, my own carpool history has provided me with a pretty detailed blueprint of things to avoid while driving around other people's children:
1. Egg salad is not allowed in the car. Now, I love a good egg salad sandwich. But it is the kind of aromatic food that belongs in large areas where air is free to move about... not in small, confined spaces. The little sister of one of the kids we carpooled with was ALWAYS sitting in the front middle seat of their station wagon, eating a giant bowl of egg salad for breakfast... right in direct line of the vents... which would blow the slightly sulfurous scent straight to the backseat. Eggcellent.
2. Never, ever, ever try to be funny ...because you will fail. One of the dads who used to occasionally pick us up would always greet us with the wrong salutation for whatever time of day it was. As we would get into the car in the morning, he would shout out, "GOOD EVENING!" We never laughed. However, having a bad sense of humor was better than the alternative: that we were being driven to school by someone who was clinically insane.
3. There is no good way to handle the radio situation. I dreaded riding with the mom who only listened to talk radio. A ten minute ride sure seems like an eternity when riding in a car where no one is talking to each other and the background noise is the voices of two women with slight Minnesotan accents discussing the current trends in knitting. But trying to be cool by letting the kids listen to a Top 40 station isn't exactly better. First of all, acting like you're "down" with the songs is just weird to kids. And if a song with any suggestive lyrics comes on, well, it's like someone just dumped a whole bucket of awkward on the entire car. Even oldies or soft rock stations aren't necessarily immune from these humiliating moments. I distinctly remember the Hall and Oates song "Rich Girl" coming on in Egg Salad Girl's car and feeling like I had done something wrong when I realized that one of the lines says, "It's a bitch, girl." I kept waiting for the mom to turn the station, but she didn't. She let us continue to listen to that profanity-ridden song. And being a very non-rebellious kid, I was feeling all kinds of weird about it.
4. Avoid doing anything that might lend itself to a nickname. One of our carpool moms was so over-the-top cheerful, my sister and I used to call her "Mary Sunshine." That doesn't sound all too bad, but we certainly never meant it in a positive way. I was in my sullen middle school years and just learning that I wasn't a morning person, so I wanted none of her bright and shiny anything. But everyday, "Mary Sunshine" would try to spark all kinds of upbeat conversation. Most notably, she would often question if we could wrap our minds around the enormity of the passage of time: "Today is the last Tuesday before Christmas break! Can you believe how fast the semester has flown?" or "Kelly, it's your last February 20th of seventh grade! Isn't that exciting?" No. No, it's not. Please turn that bitch song back on.
5. Try not to overly compliment the one cool, name brand item a child owns, thereby making it instantly uncool. "Mary Sunshine" was also a culprit of this. One year, my sister and I had gotten Land's End jackets. Hers was magenta, and mine was teal. We were both quite excited about them, seeing as how those were THE jackets to sport out on the blacktop AND it was rare that we didn't get the generic version of something (like my Target knock-off Swatch watch). Well, "Mary Sunshine" also thought they were just peachy. And she went on and on and on about what smart-looking coats we had. (Lady, I'm not going for "smart" here. I was looking more for "awesome" or "totally rad" ...and your approval of my super in-style outerwear choice is kind of cramping my style.) But then she said the most unthinkable thing you could say to a kid who goes to private Catholic school: "Wouldn't it be neat if we had uniform coats? I think those Land's End coats you girls have would be just perfect! That teal color would look nice on everyone!" And just like that, the one thing I owned that made me feel like I had arrived in society was rendered completely and totally uncool.
I think those are probably some pretty solid carpooling rules to follow. Now, if you will excuse me, I should probably go study them for a bit. I'm bringing three extra kids home from soccer practice this afternoon, and I want to be on my game. I'm prepared to keep my mouth shut and set the radio just loud enough that there isn't complete awkward silence, but just soft enough that hopefully any embarrassing music choices will go unnoticed. Oh, and I better brush my teeth so I don't have egg salad breath. I wouldn't want my car to smell like anything but the kid sweat they will undoubtedly bring along with them.
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