If you’ve got school-age kids, chances are extremely good they’re involved in sports. If you have more than one child, yeah, those practice schedules and games are NEVER going to weave together in copacetic harmony. Unless you have a chauffeur, a nanny, or a flux capacitor to split yourself in two, you’re going to need a carpool. And if you do have the luxury of a staff or a futuristic gizmo, what the hell are you doing here reading this advice? Go get yourself a nap, a merlot, and a pedicure.
In the land of youth sports, it’s the luck of the draw who you get to hang with for the season. Chances are they won’t be your dear friends, but you need to swim in the pool you paid for, so to speak. The kicker? You’re floating in a sea of strangers when you’ve never needed help more. When older brother has to get to fencing, your Pele-in-the-making needs to get to the play-offs two towns over, dad is trapped at work . . . in Dhubai, and the cat is puking out its pancreas, you need someone to have your back. A carpool takes this situation from doomed to doable by at least taking Pele to soccer. You’re on your own with the hurling feline.
The secret to the carpool is to choose wisely and develop it early.
1. Preparation starts at home. The first practice is not the time to be rocking your best boots, manicure, and perfect blow-out. It makes you look like you don’t really need the help. If you’re self-sufficient, then rock it out, Sister, but if you do need help, you might want to dial down the mom glam for now.
But don’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way. Holey pajama pants and grungy slippers gives off the impression you feed your kids PopTarts for dinner, your entire family is sharing one towel, and most importantly, you don’t have your shizz together enough to transport someone else’s precious babies. Remember, the carpool is all about reciprocity. Aim for approachable–best yoga pants, snazzy top, and neat ponytail. We’re not suggesting being Ms. Fakety-Fake, just don’t let it all hang out until, let’s say, practice six.
2. Get to the first practice early. With carpooling, safety comes first. Watch the other parents roll up in the parking lot. If a driver doesn’t at least slow down to 5 mph before opening those minivan sliding doors to eject her spawn, then you might want to mark her off the potential chauffeur list.
3. Follow the herd. When everyone is sitting together like ducks in a row, line your chair up too. If the group decides that selling blood is the best way to pay for the team’s new warm-ups, roll up a sleeve and offer a vein. On second thought, you may want to run, but in most cases now is not the time to be the Lone Ranger. Your kid’s not the only one who joined the team. Every time you make an effort, you’re upping your carpool potential.
4. Start chatting parents up to see where they live. Carpooling only makes your life easier if it doesn’t take you a tank of gas to take the extra darlings home. Try not to be creepy scoping out addresses, though. If you feel like you can’t ask where someone lives without being awkward enough to trigger a background check, work that smartphone. Take a picture of the team and show it to your potential carpool comrade, “Look how cute they are!” If she just grunts, consider the screening process successful and move on from that dud. If she coos, say, “Hey, are you on Facebook? I could tag you in it.” If you become friends on Facebook, you are golden! You not only have access to location, you can make sure they don’t participate in demonic goat square dancing . . . or at least they’re discreet enough not to post about it.
WARNING: Do not scroll through and “Like” every one of her pictures once she friends you because you’ll be taking a hard left into Creepytown. Remember, you were trying to avoid that?
5. Work your kid. Carpooling will go a whole lot smoother if you correlate your connections with your kid’s buddies. Don’t fall into the trap of setting up a carpool with the second baseman who wipes his boogers on your son’s bat. Building friendships is not just good for crafting carpools, it’s good for your child, too. You may not want to hear it, but nothing builds friendships faster than sleepovers: buck up and send out an invite. Just make sure your bathrooms are clean and you remember to feed the kids. Passing out bananas for dinner doesn’t put you at the top of any carpool lists.
6. Be the carpool member you want to attract. Offer to help a mom you see in distress, carry that über fantastic first aid kit so you can save the day, create the hang-out spot for the kids on your snazzy waterproof picnic blanket, hand puppies out from the back of a van . . . wait, scratch that last one. Heading into Creepytown again. Just be a team player.
7. Send up a flare. If subtle action fails, don’t be afraid to beg. In fact, lay out your situation in an email or just work it into a conversation during that 3 hours on the sidelines. It’s time to tamp down that pride, put on your big girl panties, and ask for exactly what you need. The people who respond when they know your chips are down are just the type of people you want in your life anyway.
Bottom line: Carpools are the secret of experienced moms for making all these extracurriculars possible. So hitch up your britches, get out there and make a carpool buddy today! You may not only save your sanity, but you may make some forever friends. Remember: Friends don’t let friends drive both ways to practice two days in a row!
-Ellen and Erin
Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”
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