Last year in the high school parking lot where my sister’s kids went to school, my sister was driving in to pick up my nephew Caleb on his last day of high school. She spotted him just when he was hit by a Jeep right there in the parking lot. Before her very eyes, he was struck, shot up onto the hood, then flew back off again and went under it. She called me from the ER to tell me she didn’t think they were going to make it to my sons’ graduation party. I figured out pretty quickly she must have been in shock, because she was just way too calm to tell me that way that a Jeep had just hit Caleb and run over his legs.
School is open again and the carpool nightmares have begun again. School parking lots become accidents waiting to happen—and they’re going to happen—with everyone’s defenses on DEFCON 2 and ready to switch to 1 the first second it looks like someone is going to get in their way. I forgot about the fall schedule and left my house at just the wrong time and got caught up in the mess at my neighborhood elementary school. We’re worried about the terrorism and wars around the world, and yet right here in every neighborhood we have carpool moms fighting it out, using SUVs as their weapons, right in front of the kids. (Yes, remember the children. They’re watching. What are we modeling for them?)
Anyone who has had to navigate through a carpool line, or has needed to pass the street connected to a carpool line, knows how wicked they can be. I was inching by, simply trying to get down the street without hitting anything or anyone, when a carpool car parked to my right at the curb suddenly pulled out in front of me doing a u-turn to squeeze the other way between me and the line of cars trying to go the opposite way to let out their little darlings. She wasn’t even at the front of the line where you’d expect sudden unexpected stunts like that, but pulled out of the queued cars waiting to release their kids. Of course I realize that I shouldn’t put all the blame on the moms. If the dads have to sub and be the carpool mom for the day, you can even expect worse behavior because they can’t believe the mess they find themselves in and just want to get the heck out of there.
This was the same school where a woman I know lost her six year old daughter. Yes, her six year old was killed in the carpool line at drop off many years ago. A horrible, terrible tragedy that I’m certain resulted in the school implementing changes to make it safer. But still today, the culture of cutthroat get in, get out, get out of my way, I’m coming through, is still prevalent. These parents don’t know that story, that their impulsive behavior puts lives at risk.
Not long ago, I took care of a friend’s daughter for a couple of weeks which meant I was taking her to school. That also meant I had to rejoin the world of carpool moms. I tried to stay calm. I prepared myself, took deep breaths, and psyched up to deal with what I might face. I drove slowly, I expected to be cut off (I was), and I prepared to wait a long time (I did) and it helped me not get bent out of shape and start duplicating the behavior I encountered. It’s so natural to react badly when someone else is aggressive. But the only way to deescalate the situation is to remain calm, let them in, and maybe even smile and wave.
Of course, that is completely ludicrous, if you’re at all realistic. Have you ever been in a carpool line? If you don’t move fast, take an opening when you see its potential to exist, strike while the iron’s hot as they say, you’ll be sitting in the parking lot for an hour with everyone honking at you and labeling you as the stupid idiot who doesn’t know how to drive. You’ll have to borrow your spouse’s car to go to the PTA meeting so no one will recognize you. You must cut in, zoom around, take the chance, show them who’s the smart cookie.
Or you can do like I started doing and drop off your kids three blocks from school and make them get out and walk the rest of the way. Even in the blizzards. Anything to avoid that pandemonium, the inevitable fender benders, or the diabolical rabid Jeeps.
It turns out that miraculously, my nephew Caleb was, in the end, okay. I saw the tire marks he had across the back of his knees and legs, made of bruises and abrasions, so I know where those wheels went over him. But he had no breaks, no internal damage, and no lingering, lasting effects. Truly miraculous. But he does have quite a story to tell. Watch out for school parking lots. Because really, it’s just better not to have any story at all.
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