Hell on Earth
The elementary school drop off line is quite possibly Hell on Earth. It is here that we see the worst of our society. In this line, rules don’t matter. It is every mom or dad for themselves. Every morning in the drop off line is like a trip to a casino; except this casino doesn’t come with a fancy hotel room, free cocktails, or lavish shows. Nevertheless, just like at a casino, I get to try my luck at being a winner and I never know what I’m going to get. As I pull down the school street each morning, I brace myself for the unknown. What will the other parents do this morning?
Will I get lucky and sail to the front of the line where my well trained 10 year old can tuck and roll out of the car, shouting “I love you!” over his shoulder as he maneuvers himself masterfully out of my almost still moving car?
Will I get stuck backed up onto the main street where I silently (and sometimes not so silently) curse the parents in front of me who choose to blatantly ignore every rule that has ever existed in the drop off line?
Will the parents in the cars in front of me actually pay attention to the school and police staff members waving them forward and pull all the way up to the front of the line?
Will they pull their car up to the middle of the line, get out and start walking into the school, ignoring the directions shouted to them by the teachers and police officer to get back into their vehicle and park in the parking lot? (By the way, I feel pity for those poor teachers and police officers each morning. What a dreadful way to start their day.)
Will they instruct their child to unbuckle their seat belt and gather their belongings while their car glides to a stop at the front of the line, making for an almost imperceptible stop of their vehicle?
Will they pull their car into the line, put it into park, and slowly get out of the driver’s seat, meandering around to the passenger’s side to help their cherubs out of the car? And will those little angels move with the slow oozing pace of a young child who has to “do it myself!!”?
Will they respectfully and without any deviation follow all of the drop off line rules that have been repeatedly posted on social media, sent home with children and plastered in front of the school building?
Will they pull up to the curb and then take 5 minutes reviewing homework slips, giving big hugs and kisses to their child, and getting engrossed at the open passenger side door in a lengthy conversation about after-school plans?
Will they complete the early morning drop off of their child without any incident?
Will they stop their car self-righteously in front of the main entrance, blocking the crosswalk from the parking lot and cause traffic to back out onto the main road, inevitably making many of us late for work?
The madness of the carpool drop off line is enough to drive any parent crazy, especially if you are like me and have a carefully choreographed morning that allows you to pull into work *just* in time after dropping your child off at school. But what happens when we allow this maddening free-for-all to dictate our morning? Does it mean that we then find ourselves short tempered for the rest of the morning? Do we carry that stress with us into our work or into the rest of our day with our children? How can we take away the power that damn line has over us?
I found myself pondering these very questions the other day when the mom in front of me stopped right in front of the main entrance and then opened every single door of the car to help children climb out — front seat, both back seats AND the rear hatch. Each child got an individual hug and kiss, a check of their backpack and lunchboxes, and time for some exchange of words that made each child smile. The eye rolls from the other parents stuck behind them were almost audible and the mom could not have cared less about the directions being yelled at her by the school staff.
While this display only held me up by about 3 minutes, I felt it physically in my body. My face turned red, my hands clenched the steering wheel tighter, and I began adding up all the extra time that was now being tacked on to my commute to work. It set off that familiar anxious chatter in my brain of all the things that could now go wrong. Now I would be stuck behind the school bus picking up kids in the next town and then I would be stuck for at least 3 light cycles at that big intersection near my work. I would not have much time to get myself prepared for my first patient and would have to wait to send that important email to my students.
When I of course got stuck behind that school bus, I started to realize how silly it was to let that one mom’s goodbye to her children ruin my day. My day had only just begun. I still had hours and hours ahead of me. So what if I was a few minutes late for work? The world wouldn’t end and, truthfully, if my schedule is really that tight then I should make sure I leave the house early enough to be the first parent in that line.
As I followed the bus down the main road, stopping every few houses to let on another child, I wondered if there was a way to re-frame the way I experience the drop off line. Rather than allowing myself to feel anger and frustration towards the parents who are breaking the rules, would it be possible to try to find a way to feel empathy for them? Perhaps something in their lives is so stressful, so painful, so exhausting that they simply don’t have the mental or physical energy to follow the drop off line rules. Maybe it’s all they can do to get themselves and their kids out the door on time. Maybe that mom really needed all that extra time with her kids that morning.
Maybe in the grand scheme of life it doesn’t really matter that much. These days where we get to roll the dice every morning with the drop off line are going to be over soon. Soon our kids will be choosing to walk with their friends, ride their bike, or take the bus to school instead of sitting with us in that drop off line. Eventually, some day sooner than we’d like to admit, they will be driving themselves. Not too soon after that, they won’t even be living in our house anymore. Maybe these extra few minutes with them each morning are really a gift. Maybe we are winning after all.