It was the perk that I didn’t even know existed until school started for my daughter. The carpool line. As a parent who was new to the whole school drop-off experience, it felt like a luxury. I didn’t have to get out of the car? At all? Whoever came up with the concept of placing your child on the passenger side and having them hop out on the sidewalk in front of the school so parents didn’t have to fuss and fight to find parking was a genius and I was all the way here for it.
My daughter’s school does a really great job of educating parents on how the carpool line works. In fact, orientation for kindergarten or new transfer students includes going outside with the principal and a live demonstration of the procedure. Our principal talks parents through each step, and is outside for the first few weeks directing the traffic flow.
Things were great during that time. We were in and out with no problem, and I was spoiled in thinking school drop off would be the least of my worries for ever and ever.
Boy, was I wrong.
Once our principal stopped directing traffic, folks lost their minds! We started having traffic jams, slow downs, and my daughter even missed getting into the school yard several times before the bell rang because people weren’t doing the carpool line right. Like, come on people, you open the door and the kid jumps out! What is happening up there?
Apparently I’m not alone. As school starts around the country, I’m hearing complaints from other parents about how the carpool line is already a shit show. I guess it’s time for a refresher course, so here you go. This is how the carpool line works, Friends. Get it together. I’m begging you. For the sake of the children.
1. Follow the direction of traffic.
Believe it or not, someone has determined the best direction for cars driving in and out of the school area. There were a lot of factors that went into that — most importantly, the safety of the school children. Even though your child might be okay if you need to back up or go around another car because they’re safely buckled up in the back, there are other kids that you need to consider.
Don’t get creative. Don’t try to pass cars. Don’t back up. Just follow the traffic.
2. Sit your child on the side of the car that they have to get out on.
It seems like it would make obvious sense to have your kid sit behind the passenger seat if that’s the side they need to get out on for school drop off, but I can attest that it’s one of the most common reasons for a slow down in the carpool lane. Sure, it’s only a few seconds more if your child has to unbuckle their seatbelt and move over to the other side of the car, but those seconds add up when there are hundreds of families doing the same thing. Make life easier on yourself and do the common sense thing.
3. Teach your kid how to unbuckle their seatbelt.
If you’re a newbie to the carpool lane, actually getting your kid out of the car will probably be the biggest challenge, especially if you have a kindergartener. My daughter is in 4th grade, so I feel confident in giving you this piece of sage advice: teach your child how to unbuckle their seatbelt. Show them. No, train them. Practice it over and over again until they get it.
By the time school starts, they should be an expert at unbuckling. Otherwise, you will be that parent in the carpool lane who has to get out of the car, run around to the passenger side in your pajamas, and help your child get out.
Don’t be that parent.
4. Take off the child safety lock.
Oh, and speaking of rookies — the biggest rookie mistake is leaving on the child safety lock. Check and recheck that it’s off. It’s a right of passage for both kids and parents, and not one you want to go through in the carpool lane.
5. Say goodbyes while you’re driving up to the front of the line.
I start saying goodbye as soon as we get off of the exit to her school even though we have five minutes to go before we’re actually there. Give yourself more time than you need so that you when it’s your time to let them out of the front of the school, your child can jump out and not feel like they’ve been pushed into the world without any direction. Talk about what’s happening after school, do affirmations, and tell them you love them as you’re driving so you don’t have to do it while 30 cars wait behind you.
6. Go through the line again if your child forgets something.
Mistakes happen. We all forget things. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem only comes when you make folks late to work because you have to dig in your trunk for something that needs to be turned into the school today. Get out of the carpool line, park, and take your time finding that thing. No one wants to be late for work because you can’t be bothered to be considerate.
7. Remember that everyone in the carpool line has the same goal as you.
The best part of being a part of a community of parents whose kids go to the same school is that we all want the same things. We want our children to get a great education, to learn to be kind, and to make friends and have fun. Oh, and we all want to drop our kids off and get to work on time. You are not the only person who is on a schedule. Your child is not the only one who needs to get to school.
Be thoughtful of the folks around you and remember that when you do your own thing in the carpool lane, you’re fucking it up for everyone. Keep it moving. Oh, and have a great school year!