The Last Carpool

Yesterday was my first carpool. It was to Crab Cove. I was anxious. I had done everything that was asked prior to arriving at pre-school. I had checked my lights and breaks, adjusted the backseat to fit three car seats, double checked that the car seats were secure, and made sure the gas tank was full. I helped all three into their seats and snapped and clicked and tightened all the buckles and belts. They had their favorite stuffies with them and wore rain boots for walking in the shallow tide pools. I looked in my rearview mirror every few seconds on the twenty-minute drive over. Checking. Making sure everyone was ok. Happy. Safe.

When we arrived at Crab Cove, it was around 9:30am. It was cold. The fog had not yet lifted and the beach smelled that pungent, sour, low-tide ocean smell that was horrible.

“It stinks,” one of them said.

“I know,” I replied. “But it’s going to be loads of fun.”

And it was. We found about a dozen little sand crabs and a few big ones, too. There was sea weed and sea shells and sand and all kinds of shiny things that make children’s hearts beat faster and eyes light up. We had snack time on the pic-nic benches:  Goldfish, raisins, apple slices, cheese sticks. Then we read a story about the sea and were back to our little school by noon.

It was a success. And such a joy.

But that was yesterday.

When I woke up today, I prepared for my last carpool. The one with all the high school seniors. The ones on the badminton team who had made it to the Western Alameda County Conference. The WACC.

As I rearranged the back-back seat to accommodate two more players, I thought about all those other carpools. How many times had I cleaned out the back of the car in order to pop up that third back seat? I had moved towels and water bottles and candy wrappers and sweatshirts and soccer cleats and jumper cables and backpacks and beach chairs and zillions of other things that littered our daily life.  In order to make room for these kids.

I loved carpool. It was a rare chance to be included. To glean bits of information. To be in the know. The conversations back there usually went something like this:

“Did you hear what happened in Mahoney’s class?”

“Oh, yeah. Crazy!”


The fact that no one ever says exactly what did happen in Mahoney’s class is irrelevant. The important thing was that I knew that something did in fact happen in Mahoney’s class. Sometimes that’s all a mom needs. And sometimes, of course, a mom has to plead for someone to please tell her what happened.

As I dropped each kid off at home after the tournament, it donned on me. How was it possible that I went from first pre-school carpool to last high school carpool in twenty-four hours?

I parked my Toyota Highlander back in the driveway and went inside and looked at myself in my bathroom mirror.

Yep. Old.

When I drove to Crab Cove yesterday I was young. Skinny. In those red, size 8 jeans, my white cotton T-shirt and my royal blue Adirondack jacket – both raincoat and ski jacket.  God I loved that jacket. Now those size 8 jeans are so far in my rearview mirror that they are just a red blip on the black pavement. And I have a streak of gray hair trying to break away from my dyed brown and thinning hair, just above my right temple. I call it “The Cruella de Vil.”  My hair is so thin that I can’t even put it in a regular pony tail anymore.  The pony tail holder is too big.  I twist it around and around, pulling the hair through the middle over and over without it ever getting tight. Never mind, I think. And then I suddenly understand why older women all have short hair. You just have absolutely no choice.

Yesterday, in addition to having longer, shinier, thicker hair, my eyes could open up all the way. Today I have to force my eyes wide open, lifting my forehead and eyebrows, just to get them to settle at an acceptable level of partially open. There is something weird on my eyelid. What is that? It looks like a piece of a potato chip. Oh, yeah, it’s my eye lid, falling over itself. Oh, for Pete’s sake!

I walk into the kitchen, thinking about the Badminton tournament. They did a great job, those kids. And as I think about them all, heading off in a few short months to various parts of the country to start more educating, I am startled and impressed at the same time. How did they do it? There is so much more pressure today than when I was in school. In 1982, nobody asked me what my ideal school was, which one was my “safety” and which one was my “stretch.” No one cared when I took the SAT. Or if I had a tutor (I did not). When I did take the SAT, one cold Colorado Saturday morning, I got up uncharacteristically early.

“What are you doing?” my father asked me as I ate a bowl of Fruit Loops.

“Going to take the SAT.”

“Oh. Do you have a sharp pencil?”

That was the extent of the concern from my parents. And somehow I made it into college, graduated, got a job, got married, had kids, bought a house, planted a garden, adopted two cats, volunteered at school, hosted at least 30 birthday parties, and made a dozen almost complete scrapbooks. Who knew you could do all that without having had an SAT tutor and weekly monitored study sessions with multiple frustrating conversations about college applications?

I walk back into my bathroom to look in the mirror again.

I’m going to cut my hair. My nest is about to become completely empty. It’s time to cut my hair.

“Don’t cut your hair,” my husband will say.

“But, my hair sucks,” I will reply.

“No. I like it that way.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I will bark.

These types of conversations will occur regularly over the next several months as I begin to adjust to my new life.

I know already that I will walk into my children’s rooms when they are gone, and, standing in their doorways, I will peer around and take note of their absence. I will stare at their bulletin boards that will undoubtedly have just a few remnants of teenage life pinned to them. A dried out Homecoming corsage. A varsity letter. Maybe a few posters will stay.  One Direction. Jason Mraz. I will smile at the perfectly made beds and the unobstructed views of the pristine hardwood floors. And then I will cry and force myself to go sit at my desk and work on getting my shit together.

Now that I’ve driven the last carpool, it’s time to get my shit together. Will I know how to get my shit together after spending so much time pushing it aside?

I decide to drive over to the bank and to Mulberry’s for a coffee, and as I am passing by the elementary school, I see myself. I am picking up my kids.

I am so cute.

I have on black boots and skinny jeans and my ponytail is perfect, swinging from side to side as I load my kids into the backseat of my car. I watch myself snap them into their car seats. Safe and sound, kicking their little feet up and throwing their heads back in laughter.

“Ok,” I am saying. “Let’s go home and get a snack.”

I stash their sweet little backpacks, filled only with fun and love and innocence, on the front passenger seat. Then I watch myself skip around to the driver’s seat and climb in. We wave goodbye to friends on the curb who are waiting for their rides. And off we go.

Oh, shoot. That’s not me.

That’s the fresh, young mother, taking my place as I move on to the next step of my life.

Today, sitting in my car with a lovely muffin top spilling over my belted jeans, I sip my half-caf mocha, no whip, and I look up at the bright blue sky. I wonder what is in store.  For me. For my kids. For all of us in the whole wide world. And I know that I have to drive right on past that adorable mom and find the way back to my life.

After all, I need to get dinner going. It will probably be just my husband and me. Spooning mushroom and barley soup. Wiping the corners of our mouths. Listening to the tick, tick, tick of the grandfather clock.

“Please pass the salt,” I will say.

And he’ll pass it on over. I’ll give it a few shakes into my bowl, and I’ll smile up at him.

“It’s good,” he’ll say noticing my melancholy and trying, sweetly, to give me a boost.

“Thanks,” I’ll reply.

“Game of Thrones is on tonight,” he’ll say with a wink.

Oh, Game of Thrones. Something shining to make my heart beat faster and my eyes light up. I will sparkle as we both scurry to get the dishes done, and I will forget all about the last carpool. At least for the next hour.

James and Julie, Crab Cove, 1999


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