Monday, June 14, 2010

I Heart Carpool (5.18.08)

Carpool is supposed to be one of those typical mom duties that we endure rather than enjoy, an endless and largely mindless task that symbolizes our demographic in a confining way. But I love it, always have.

With gas at the wait-that-can't-be-real price of more than $4.00 a gallon, it seems like the wrong time to be praising any activity involving the internal combustion engine. But any shared ride is one more car off the road, so it feels good to fill our hybrid up to the gills with kids.

Yes, there are tough days. Contorting my aching back over the rear seat, my ass up in the air as I struggle to snap the 17-point harness, then shove my hands between the hard plastic rough edges of the portable seats, searching for the ornery buckle in its finger-crushing crevice while the kids pull off my hat, demand snacks and scream with laughter or outrage as the cold wind whips my hair in my face and the line of cars waiting behind us nudges impatiently forward is not my idea of fun.

But now that summer break is approaching I'll admit I'm going to miss it.

I'll miss the magic moment in line before I pick up the three big kids, when little Nora has fallen asleep on the ride over and I have two or five minutes to read an old copy of the Onion or the library book I had the forethought to grab. I love how our Highlander shuts off rather than idles but still can be rolled forward, as silent as a golf cart. I love listening to the kids' giggles. I love sneaking peeks in the rear view mirror as Mia flails around "drumming," Henry shakes one hand as he plays "buh-tar," Ellie bangs the invisible piano and Nora bobs her head as we listen to Ralph Covert channel Johnny Rotten on "I Don't Wanna." It's such a beautiful and such a stupid thing, I have to lift my own microphone banana (at the stoplight only - both hands on the wheel when the light turns green, Momma) and do a little lip-sync of my own.

I love how the music sounds so good in the car. At home there are so many distractions I can't make it through a single song, but in the car, there's the luxury of time, the necessity of busy hands. The windshield frames the view, Neko Case whispers intimately in my ear and suddenly everything I see is moving to the rhythm of the soundtrack and I've entered a movie.

I love how carpool give a gloomy and listless February afternoon structure and purpose.

The movie You Can Count on Me opens and closes with two similar sequences: single mom Laura Linney driving to work. Some pretty big drama has happened to Linney over the course of the film, but the drive at the beginning and the drive at the end are very much alike. Both times we see shots of the small town Linney and her young son call home. Both days we see her driving, then taking her eyes off the road for a moment to check something, perhaps her boyfriend's car already at work? The lunch special on the chalkboard in the diner window? Without words, in a few moments, we get a sense of her daily commute, familiar, unavoidable, necessary. You feel the closed circle of her small town life, but also the satisfaction and comfort in her routine.

Carpool can be an opportunity to practice a little Zen, to put my mind into an unavoidable task and decide to love it. Peter Matthiessen writes of asking a holy man who was twisted with arthritis and who had not left his Nepal monastery in eight years if he felt isolated. The wise man laughed and replied, "Of course I am happy here! It's wonderful! Especially when I have no choice!"

I love relieving a tiny bit of the karmic debt I accrued this winter. I love the extra time I give my neighbors and I love receiving some from them in return. I love how carpool means they can count on me.

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