Today I want to complain about moms and dads who drive their kids from the house to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus in the morning. I see this every day when I drive to work. I’m a teacher and I live 25 miles from where I teach, and I take back roads for the first half of the commute, so I get to see a good variety of houses and neighborhoods on my way. I wouldn’t say these cases are the majority, or numerous, or ubiquitous, but they are regular enough that I have to take notice, and my sense is that their numbers are increasing.
My first question is, of course, What the hell?
Before I slice these people up, I want to try to understand what might be legitimate about their practice. First of all, it’s possible that in the winter, on a morning when all the kids (and their teachers) are praying for a snow day, because the flakes have been falling all night, or the temperature is below zero at five a.m. and the wind chill has knocked that down ten or twenty degrees more, that mom or dad would be truly concerned about their kid and sit with them in their mobile shelter with the motor running to keep them from getting frostbite on their fingers and noses which would make doing math problems and writing compositions and sniffing out the bullies difficult. I was going to include to keep their hair from freezing, as I remember mine doing after sports on winter afternoons as I walked home from the gym, but then I realized most of these kids are blow-drying their hair.
But that doesn’t explain the other 170 or days of the school year. This past spring I drove by, and there they were, sealed up on a blessedly balmy morning, the sun rising outside their tinted windows, exhaust placidly streaming out of the tailpipe.
This image leads me to my second forgiving supposition: that mom or dad and junior are sharing a few moments together, talking about the day ahead or just past, or about grandma’s upcoming operation, or the reason for fog, or any number of other intimacies that I have found have transpired between my step-son and me when both of us were sitting facing forward looking at the world through the screen of a car windshield. Like TV without the commercials, or the idiocy.
But in that case, I think, why not have that conversation standing on the good earth, and be able to include in the experience the twittering of birds, the breeze on your cheeks, the changing light, and – if you love machines that much – the sound of cars, mine and others, whizzing by on their ways to work?
Maybe mom or dad is on the way to work, and so is just taking the opportunity to warm up the car and spend a few precious moments with her or his child? But often enough I’ve seen the bus come and, as I’m waiting for the child to slowly, slowly board and the stop sign attached to the side of the yellow hulk to fold back and the red lights to stop flashing, the parental vehicle – usually an SUV or at least a minivan – backs down the driveway towards the garage, there to shut itself down and the parent to slide back into the warm cave of the home.
In many cases these homes are newly built on what was just a few years ago active farm land. In some cases the driveway between the road and garage is long, sometimes very long: ranging from a hundred yards to a quarter mile. These are no doubt people who have fled the dangers and noise of the city to build their 4,800 square foot dream home in the country amid the wonders of nature (the teeming goldenrod and sumac, the polecats and falcons safely distant beyond their five acre lawns), so they can expend fossils fuels at the rate of a gallon a week to drive their kids down to the road to wait for the bus.
Later, to keep their kids from joining the growing epidemic of obesity and drugs and afternoon re-runs, they shuttle them off to the soccer league after school, then swing by the local supermarket to pick up some frozen oven-fried chicken, a quart of coleslaw, and a couple of two-liter Cokes to shovel in at the kitchen breakfast bar that suffices for a dining table as they hurry off to do homework or catch the latest installment of Survivor.
Unfortunately, the floods of climate change won’t come to their front lawns, which are well-above sea-level. If the drought comes they won’t be affected, because the county recently ran a water line out to their house so they wouldn’t have to depend on a well anymore. (They didn’t run the line specifically for their sakes, but as side effect of construction out to the little town on the edge of the county where the new landfill sits, a deal the town council, though not its constituents, thought was a bargain.) If Lake Ontario dried up, they might be in some trouble, but that isn’t likely to happen in our lifetimes.
And, if, as predicted, this particular region becomes wetter than it already is (and grayer, which many already complain about), there will certainly be no shortage of water, and they can rely on their sump pump to keep the basement dry, and advanced artificial playing surfaces to keep the soccer fields playable.
Though, Where to? would be the question. The deserts of the west are due to become dryer, and all the rain we’re expected to get here won’t help that – though there are plans afoot to pipe some on Ontario’s water out west, or even ship it to our friends in the Saudi Arabia in exchange for, you guessed it, oil to keep mom’s and dad’s motors purring. (That could shorten Ontario’s useful life.)
Can they make a driveway long enough or a window glass tinted enough to shut out all those contingencies?
This rant was originally posted on my blog “Ruekblog” at poetry.restory.com (now defunct) on July 5, 2007.