I’m drowning! Quick, toss me a carpool!

Any mom of a sports-playing student, struggling to keep her head above the turbulent back-to-school-and-sports waters knows she must be properly equipped if she expects to survive. Experience has taught her that there’s only one life preserver worth clinging to.

For this mom, it’s the carpool.

During any given sports season, there’s one sure-fire way to threaten her survival, forcing her to send up flares, crying “Mayday, Mayday!”

Mess with her carpool.

I’ve been around the block a time or two so I know waiting until the start of any given sports season to set up a carpool is laced with risk and foolishness. Scoring a spot in the right carpool is like a game of musical chairs, with moms scrambling to claim a seat belt for their child. Wait too long and you’re left dealing with the stigma of being in the pick-up line every day, carpool parents behind the wheels of their fully-loaded vehicles either looking at you with pity or trying to avoid eye contact altogether.

So when middle school football practice kicked in, I was prepared. I’d spent the preseason scouting potential picks, ultimately drafting four other drivers – umm, boys — for my Carpool Dream Team. Its perfection was based on math that even I could understand. Five boys, five days of practice…one day of driving.

Score!

But come team selection day, a tsunami hit as my son climbed into the Kid Hauler and announced:  “I’m on the other team.” Code for “Your carpool is kaput.”

I gasped for air and tried desperately to keep my hopes for a low-mileage season afloat.

“Let me get this straight,” I said as the dashboard slowly came back into focus. “You mean the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday drivers — I mean, boys — are all on the other team; the one that practices at a different time?

“Jeez, Mom, it’s not like I’m on the bad team or something!” He had the gall to look offended.

“You think this is about you?” I snapped. What kind of self-centered kid were we raising? I’d had the luxury of four days that I could legitimately forget about picking him up without fear of child abandonment charges. The thought of the other carpool parents wallowing in the glory of a single-pick-up day per week was more than I could take. The envy alone would eat me alive.

It was time to talk strategy with the coach.

“Coach?” I caught him about to ease into his immaculate, 20-something-guy-with-no-kids, two-seater car.

“I have a quick question about team selection. How heavily did zip codes weigh in your decision?

He seemed puzzled. “Uh, zip codes?”

“Yes, zip codes; you know, where the boys live. What was your main criterion for team placement?”

“Well, skill, actually.”

Skill? Are you kidding me?” What a rookie.

I closed in on his personal space for a focused conversation. He clutched his open car door for protection, his eyes nervously scanning the parking lot for witnesses and to silently signal for help.

“Let me tell you about skill, young man. Skill is getting three kids, playing five different sports, to the right field, at the right time, in the right uniform, with the right ball, the right form and a check for the right amount.”

Eyes narrowing, I came close enough to wag my finger in that space where only mothers are allowed to wag.

“And I’ll let you in on the real secret behind the skill of making all that happen, mister. It’s a carpool. That’s right, a carpool. Just ask your mother; she’ll tell you. I have no doubt that you’ve got a Chevy Astro Van, packed with smelly teenaged boys in your past, buddy boy. And I have no doubt it’s what helped you get where you are today.

My rant continued without pause, “And who are you to rob my son of the same kind of privilege by putting him on a team that practices at a different time, breaking up a carpool that’s so good I could auction off his seat and put to rest that nagging little issue of college tuition?

As I finally slowed to take a breath, he found his voice as relief swept over his face and his grip on the car door loosened.

“Uh, ma’am, the teams practice at the same time; we’re safe.”

We’re safe. Seems this young coach had figured out another little secret about what carpools can do — put a brake on how much time moms like me are on the road.

This post is a fluffed and refolded version of the piece I submitted to the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.  No, I didn’t take home the $100 prize, free registration to the Erma Bombeck’s Writer’s Workshop (it was worth paying for myself) or most importantly, earn the honor of having my name linked to that remarkable writer. But as the preseason school sports madness brings summer to a screeching halt, it seemed like the right post at the right time.

You can read the entries from the winning Erma wannabes here.

12 Responses to “I’m drowning! Quick, toss me a carpool!”

  1. Amy Krallman says:

    Boy does that bring back memories…of waiting on the cold dark curb, waiting for my father who forgot it was his day for carpool and was chowing on chili in a warm house! (of course I had used my last quarter for a Dr. Pepper rather than the payphone . . . ) Love the blog!!!

  2. Jerry Nerl says:

    Janice,
    Somehow I can see you doing this, it had me lol. Too bad you did not win anything with it. Jerry

  3. Janice Crago says:

    Priorities, right? For both you and your dad! So glad you stopped by!

  4. Janice Crago says:

    Sports bring out the best in all of us, don’t they?

  5. Nancy Chinworth says:

    That entry needs to appear in every major newspaper, parenting publication, sports journal, on-line, in-line or off-line blog, and twitter post now!!! Forget the measly 100 bucks, where can we find a contest that offers a regular column? Your humor must be appreciated by the masses!

  6. Janice Crago says:

    You’ve made it clear who I need to nominate for the judging panel!

  7. I live in awe of moms like you. Having raised three athletes I somehow never acquired the carpooling skills of a ninja master like yourself. I did, however, have thoughts of Erma Bombeck cross my mind as I read this wonderful piece. Fine job, Mrs. Crago, keep it up.

  8. Wes Chinworth says:

    OK, Nance tells me I have to read some stupid blog… another read I have to skim while fake laughing. If I perform this feat just right, she will let me go without re-reading the whole article aloud just to make sure I appreciate her brand of humor. Well, no skimming here, Janice, as a cross-country and golf coach I vividly relived several tongue lashings/nightmares/phone calls over this issue. I loved it!!! I hope to share this with other parents and coaches @ NJ-SP High School if that is OK with you.

  9. Janice Crago says:

    It’s because you’re a guy Mr. Johnson. There. I said it.
    And because as you well know, I have what some people might kindly refer to as a strong personality.
    Thanks for coming by!

  10. Janice Crago says:

    Please, share freely Wes!
    Thanks for sharing your secret to marital bliss — just do what she says.

  11. Janice,

    Absolutely loved this post!! Every parent with kids active in sports can relate to this. We were crazy enough for a season or two to let our daughter play 3 consecutive sports (one was ending as the other two began.) That was a driving nightmare!! Glad to see high schools limit the girls to one sport/season!

  12. Janice Crago says:

    I hereby christen you the Carpool Queen, Ms. Beckham. Your organizational skills left me curbside with my thumb out. Having your family within our approved zip codes area is a major win!

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