Mom’s Taxi

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What parenting responsibility would you like to pawn off?

Thanks to doctors’ appointments, piano lessons, gymnastics classes, and other commitments, I spend two hours every day chauffeuring my kids. I would love a reprieve from my time behind the wheel. ~Cynthia Garman, Milford, Ohio; Real Simple magazine

Driving kids around: not one of my favorite things. Some people do like it, I hear – they say it gives them a good opportunity to talk to their kids; captive audience or some such thing.  But my kids are still little. Rather than wanting them to talk to me more, I’m usually in the car hoping against hope that maybe, just MAYBE, one of my little darlings will conk out and nap in the backseat while I drive around with my peppermint mocha. It never happens. Sigh… A girl can dream.

There’s a sinister side to this, though. We HAVE to drive our kids around because we don’t have viable alternatives.

I remember a conversation I had with a neighbor a few years ago who told me that one of the reasons she was still home with her kids was that they wouldn’t be able to be involved in any extracurricular activities if she were working. (Not the only reason, and I should mention that she is the kind of stay-at-home-mom the rest of slackers aspire to be.) It was sad, she said, for kids whose parents both worked.  Since they didn’t have a ride, there were all sorts of things that they didn’t get to do.

I would imagine that working parents might contest that – but maybe not? I’m interested in your thoughts on this. The decisions about whether and how much to work beyond one’s parenting and household responsibilities are complex and weighty. And now we’re adding chauffeuring to the list of challenges? When I connect the dots on this, it kind of floors me that something so seemingly trivial could be a barrier to workplace re-entry.

Prairie Home Companion nailed this (what – you don’t listen to Prairie Home Companion?). I can’t embed the audio – apologies – but you can use this link and go to 15:39. It’s really worth the extra click; hearing a song is so much better than reading it. An excerpt:

She sits at the stoplight, waits for the green
She’s late for the meeting at 11:15
She texts her executive assistant, Marie
As she takes off in her black SUV

School is out at quarter to three
Macon has basketball, Jordan is free
Until 4:30, when he’s in therapy
It’s a busy day, in that black SUV

She heard a story on NPR
About women who spend half their lives in their car
Career women, with a family
Driving around in a black SUV

She went to Berkeley where she got her degree
In English with a minor in philosophy
She never imagined someday she would be
Driving around in a black SUV

(The woman in the song ends up totaling her black SUV and switching to the trolley. That part of the song is pretty fun, too, just a little off-topic for today.)

I don’t have a lot of answers here. This is life in suburbia, and I’m not complaining so much as observing a flaw in the way we’ve set up our little corner of the world. But I think it shows why it’s to our benefit to begin talking about  livability a little bit more. Fifty years ago, our places were built for people. Now they’re built around cars, and we’re not able to get by without spending our lives in them.  The automobile is a great tool, but we’ve passed the point of diminishing returns here – it’s beginning to take more than it gives. We don’t want to go back in time. But moving forward into a future that builds places around people again sounds pretty darn awesome.

Six weeks after I originally published this, I found this study on the topic, entitled “High-Mileage Moms.” It’s a good read if you’d like more on the topic.

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3 thoughts on “Mom’s Taxi”

  1. I think this discussion is complex. When I think of chauffeuring, I think there are necessary components–there is school to get to, dr. appointments to go to, errands to run. However, when a parent is spending a good portion of their time running from one place to another getting one child here and another there, I begin to wonder a bit about said parent’s desires for the child and how much is parent driven and how much is child driven. Could it be that in our strong desire to succeed, to do and balance everything, that we are also asking our children to do the same? And just in case you think I’m speaking from a homeschool box, it would be completely possible to spend every single day running my kids from one class/activity to another. We can live the way we do because we have chosen to.

    1. Yes, it’s complex, but the big question in my mind is to what extent we’re actually free to choose, and to what extent our communities have been put together in such a way that certain choices have already been made for us. Our kids are involved in nothing outside of school, and I can easily spend an hour to an hour and a half a day in the car. While I agree that your life looks the way it does in some part because you’ve chosen it, would you have chosen to live in your neighborhood if homeschooling or Christian schools weren’t an option?

      We could have had CJ go to the local elementary school and save the drive there. That was a choice. There’s no bussing for preschool, but we chose to have Abigail enrolled nonetheless. When they get to high school, I expect to let them run track/play in the marching band/be on the debate team even though we’ll have to struggle with transportation again there. Choosing those activities are choices, but there the only choice, it seems, is “participate in activity and drive” or “don’t participate.” And as overscheduled as our society may often, be, some amount of social engagement is both desirable and necessary. You know that we’ve spent years working to get to the point where we may be able to move into town so we don’t have to drive absolutely everywhere, but there are some very good reasons why not everyone is doing that (schools, crime, there’s not much left to walk to in many city centers anyway). The vast majority of postwar development has gone on in suburbia, and that has certain ramifications. I don’t think I addressed the complexity enough here; this is probably a topic worth revisiting.

      1. I think this deserves a conversation (amid all our other conversations!) But my thought is this, although I do live in a city, when my kids do join activities, I will have to chauffer quite a bit because, ironically enough, our activities take place in suburbs, not the city-center that we live in. And yes, social interaction is important–but also right now we can get almost all of it within a couple miles of our house. And we all make certain choices–like we drive to Allendale to our dentist because it’s comfortable and familar. Is that the wisest use of time and resources? Absolutely not.

        But your questions about choice and community are valid. I would also ask this question: why is it that each family feels an individual responsibility to chauffer? I am asking specifically about the role of communityin the way we transport and think. I would argue that we have become so individualized that we often forget to share the burden. Maybe your experience is different. But I would like to ask some questions about that mostly because in my own experience, i have started to be forced to be humbled enough to ask for rides to hang with people and then depend on them to get home. Perhaps livability in communities is also tied to the reliance neighbors/friends have upon each other.

        More food for thought. Thanks for making me think.

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