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Tracy Briggs, Published June 18 2012

Parenting Perspectives: Carpool craziness

I’m always a little depressed coming back from vacation. So it’s not surprising to find me on return flights home wistfully looking out that little window wishing once again for umbrella drinks on the beach instead of Diet Coke at my desk.

But a couple of weeks ago, as I sat moping in a 757 on a Los Angeles International Airport runway, something struck me. As I watched our plane inch its way to takeoff behind several others, I realized how challenging it must be to be an air traffic controller.

In airports like LAX, planes are flying in and taking off nearly simultaneously, buzzing around the skies like bees in the hive. I marveled at the organizational abilities of these men and women in the tower.

But a day after returning home, I realized they had nothing on my friend Karen. She and I have daughters who are dancing in the same theater production this summer. We both work full time, as do our husbands. So we decided even before the snow had melted this spring that we should plan to carpool to the theater this summer.

Now back at work and with the theater program fast approaching, I knew we should start to make our carpool plan. But Karen, a woman with the face of a teenager and the planning and organizing skills of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, had beaten me to the punch.

She created a spreadsheet that outlined, in detail, whose children were going where on what day, who was responsible for drop off and pickup and where said children would go upon completion of that day’s kick-ball-changing. This was like our own D-Day battle plan, but for the whole month of June. It was awesome. Almost a work of art.

I think what most excited me was that it was something tangible that I could share with my husband, who often operates on an “information- overload, need-to- know” basis.

Me: “We need to talk about next week. Who is taking Laura to figure skating while Jordan has her soccer game? I have that presentation for work and you have (whatever it is college professors do).

Husband (deer in headlights look): “Uh, can we just talk about it closer to the day?”

He walks away mumbling something. (It’s probably something about kids being overcommitted or us spending too much money. That’s usually what he mumbles about.)

The truth is you almost have to do what Karen is doing. It’s so hard juggling kids’ lives these days. For my mom, summer meant giving us a quick breakfast (My favorite was Pop Tarts and Tang) and then watching us leave the house for a day of freeze tag and red-light-green-light, only to return for Kool-Aid breaks and maybe dinner later that night.

But these days with many of us working full-time we struggle to find things to occupy our children’s time. Sometimes, it’s bringing them to a child care facility where activities are planned for them. Other times, it’s trying to weave quick trips to the soccer fields, ice skating rinks and baseball diamonds into our workday. All the while we struggle to keep it all straight with our spouses, bosses and other parents. Maybe a carpool traffic controller would come in handy.

“Tower, blue Subaru requesting permission to take off from “Soccer Field 9” with passenger cargo of shin-guard clad, Powerade-swilling, orange-slice sucking 8-year-olds. Over”

“Blue Subaru, you are cleared for take off. Taxi to Pepsi Complex driveway one-niner. Proceed with caution as white mini van is stopped upon approach. White mini van, what is your position? Over.”

“I’m in the driveway here. Isn’t this the ballet studio? Where’s my wife’s spreadsheet?”

So wish us all well as we start another summer of kid wrangling and juggling. Remember fellow parents we have succeeded if we have gotten the children safely from Point A to Point B.

We might not always understand why we do this to ourselves. We dream of a day when things might be simpler, when we don’t take up residence in our cars. But until that day, we will rely upon each other and the occasional spreadsheet to help us navigate our way through the overcommitted waters.

Godspeed to you all.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is an employee of Forum Communications Co.