Hell is other people in the school car line

One father muses about the hours and hours he has spent in the school car line, dropping off and picking up his three girls
By Art Q. Smith  Published on 05/24/2018 at 2:02 PM EDT
The car line wait: existential black hole or luxuriant me-time?

Car line. It’s a uniquely suburban concept created to maximize the efficiency of the drop-off and pick up parades taking place daily at schools across the country. For the most part it gets the job done, but maybe not always quite as smoothly as its creators may have initially hoped. And by creators I mean the well-meaning, pioneering Parent/Faculty Association members who probably planned it under fluorescent lighting in a room so versatile so as to be used as a cafeteria, gym and auditorium (a cafa-gyma-torium).

Car lines are no joke, as anyone who has ever attempted to drop their kids off at a new school will tell you. It can be insanely stressful with very specific rules for the approach, where to stop, how long to idle and how quickly the children should enter or exit the vehicle. I guarantee that if your school has a carline then the intricate and complicated rules pertaining to it can be found in a multipage document housed in some dark corner of its web site. Few ever take the time to delve into those recesses to familiarize themselves with said rules though. And why should we? A printed out version is almost always in a packet of back to school paperwork handed to us with a flourish and quickly put aside to live out the remainder of its short, lonely life in a kitchen drawer or sandwiched between magazines on a counter.

Don’t worry, most of us learn car line etiquette the hard way, through trial and error and at the hands of the often harried parent volunteers who try to keep the traffic moving rain or shine. Usually the volunteers change from one week to the next, which is good because more than a week of waving and mouthing “keep moving” to clueless and often disobedient drivers is enough to break the school spirit of almost anyone. If you’re like me, you will find yourself muttering mindlessly about “why she just can’t move up” or “how long is it going to take for that kid to JUST GET OUT OF THE CAR?!” I’m not proud of this impatience, but in my defense I’m not a morning person.

That said, afternoon car line takes on a whole different flavor that to me more than makes up for the morning debacle. Veterans opt for one of two equally good plans of attack. First, you can let your kids know they will absolutely not be the first ones picked up so they don’t panic as they see all their friends getting picked up. In this scenario you allow yourself the freedom to simply sail up on the later end of carline, avoiding the waiting and missing the backup almost entirely. This option is definitely the way to go for the type-A overachievers who will use that extra time to run another errand or maybe fold a quick load of laundry. Kudos to them making every moment count and getting it all done! It’s not how I roll, but more power to them.

The other option, and my personal favorite, is to succumb to car line altogether. Get to school half an hour or more before dismissal, just pull up to a good spot close to the school exit and get comfy in your car. At first glance it may seem like you are wasting time, but actually you are gifting yourself a little ‘me’ time. Remember those emails and texts you wanted to get to? Well, now’s your chance! Behind on Words With Friends? Dive right in and really take your time finding a triple letter score for that X or Q because you have at least 30 minutes to focus. Curious to see how the other half lives? Get on and search what’s available in the $5-10 million range. Facebook is too stressful, but you should feel free to google an ex. Catch up on Internet gossip, make a phone call or pretend to be on the phone so passers-by don’t attempt any friendly car window banter. Enjoy yourself because you won’t get away with indulging in this kind of tomfoolery just anywhere. If you attempt this bold an agenda at the local coffee house, you are bound to be interrupted by friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

Just remember, you earned your priceless car line pickup time. After all, wasn’t it only this morning that you were stuck behind that ginormous SUV with the first grader who dawdled her way out for what seemed like days while you watched your precious morning minutes race by? Yeah, this is your time!

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