Every afternoon around 3 PM, I sit in my rocking lounge chair and wait. Sometimes I wait for up to 45 minutes. Sometimes I may even fold clothes as I wait, or write a small article for my blog. I never mind the waiting. Most days I do not wait alone. My 70 pound dog Coco fancies herself a lap dog, and so she waits with me…on my lap…in the lounge chair. (I have boundary issues with our dogs!) I know this waiting is a luxury, and I feel awkward announcing this to the world, almost as if I am bragging. But, do not think less of me, dear Reader, for I have waited a long time to be able to wait.
You ask, for what are you waiting? I will tell you, faithful Reader. I am waiting for the sound of my children—usually screaming at each other over some trivial thing like whose turn it is to take in the garbage can—as they park their bikes in the garage.
Yes, my children have reached the enviable age where they can ride their bikes the one-mile to their school. Some of you who have children who ride the bus may be utterly puzzled by the joy I now find in waiting at 3 PM. I am betting, however, that a great number of you know very well why you can find me rocking and smiling as I wait. That’s right, oh perceptive Reader, I smile because I have graduated from the carpool line, or as I like to call it A.P. or Afternoon Purgatory.
I firmly believe that if Dante were living in present day USA, he surely would have made waiting in the carpool line in the Texas heat one of his many layers of hell or at the very least purgatory. The visual image alone would frighten Virgil himself: metal and plastic machines of all colors, emitting waving toxic vapors snaking around a parking lot in a configuration that looks like a giant patchwork colored snake who just shed its sizeable skin. People—most of them women—are slumped over black wheels while holding small electronic devices. Some have rolled down their windows. Other clever carpoolers—most likely on the professional carpooling circuit—have created makeshift curtains out of discarded sweatshirts or rain jackets. Each drone-like vehicle displays a number that must be counted by an official looking person wearing a garish neon yellow vest. The visage of each driver varies between sullen, angry, nervous and pensive. Of course, a few can be seen drooling on themselves as they catch a few winks before the lines of children emerge from the school. After all, they will surely sleep more than the 15 minutes sleep doctors recommend. Those lucky few are usually wakened by a blaring horn.
I volunteer enough at the school to know that not everyone hates carpool like I do. In fact, most days one can find a half dozen cars lining up at 1:30 for a 3:30 dismissal. That is not an exaggeration. I’ve even see people park their cars in line, walk their dogs in the neighboring streets, and return just before it was time to put their SUVs in gear. These people are always first in line. I often wonder if they have a compulsive need to be first or if they truly have nothing to do.
Just a measly four months ago I was part of that daily descent into Inferno. I was a drone waiting for my little queen bees to emerge from the hive. As I sat in one of the lines, I would produce cups of sweat as my minivan burned enough fossil fuel to melt one glacier in the Antarctic. Strangely though, even with enough gas vapors to choke a small country, it was not adequate fuel to make the air in my car cold or even coolish. As I wiped the perspiration off my forehead I would worry—worry about all the things I could have been doing instead of sitting in carpool for 45 minutes, like cooking Hamburger Helper or dragging out my iron, or sewing patches on my kids’ Scout uniforms.
Sometimes I would feel ambitious and start collecting the bottles and trash out of the back seat. When I still had a diaper bag, I would wipe down those nasty gooey patches on the windows and scuff marks of the back of my chair. One year I had this fantasy that I would buy a mini battery-powered vacuum that I would use daily to suck up the Cheerios out of the van’s nooks and crannies. Those fantasies never amounted to more than dreams in my head. To be honest, though dear Reader, those detailing days were few and far between. My van was never really all that spiffy. It took time away from my compulsive worrying. You know, about how I should be trimming my hedges or decorating for Halloween or washing t-shirts and underwear. (I don’t know why my husband is so picky about having clean tighty-whities every day!)
Lest you think this transition from van to bikes was an easy one, I assure you, careful Reader, that this complete paradigm shift (okay that’s an exaggeration) was fraught with bumps and scraps (literally). First, I took the kids on several practice rides to have these lazy lumps get used to the feel of their muscles pushing the pedals. They had to learn to navigate the dips and hills on the sidewalks and to figure out how to use the bike locks at the racks. Along the way, we survived scraped knees and palms, lapsed bike chains, and route changes due to construction. Additionally, I had to endure several weeks of tortuous whining: “Mom, why can’t you drive us?” “Mom, this is not fair. I didn’t agree to this.” “By the time I get to school I am all sweaty.” “Why do we have to wear a helmet?” (That’s the truncated list of whines.) I am proud to say, however, that my children no longer whine, they get to school 15 minutes earlier than they ever did when I drove, and they are getting fit in the process. Plus, I have at least one extra hour in my day to bleach those nightie-whites!
In Dante’s language I have now reached Paradiso. In a way I consider this an “after life” of sorts. It’s A.C., After Carpool. Now I relax in my air-conditioned home, rocking in my comfy lounge chair with my chocolate lab on my lap just waiting. Waiting with a smile on my face for my bambinos to arrive. And, let’s face it. I need a few minutes to relax before the chaos of homework ensues.