| Double Take |

Stalled Car Pool

There are some mornings that my little girl is standing by the front door, French-braided hair, lunchbox and all — and Elisheva’s car takes forever to arrive
Dina

How could you let me down at the last minute?

Elisheva

I appreciate what you’ve done for me, but our arrangement doesn’t work for my family any more. Afternoon car pool. Crawling cars, incessant beeping, bottleneck traffic in front of the school.

Dina:

I

leaned on the wheel and glanced up at the clock. Two minutes till dismissal. Good thing I’m experienced at this. I calculated that I had six minutes until the girls come out, a minute or two to have everyone buckled in. Eight minutes maximum, and we should be on our way.

“Hi, Mommy!”

My third-grader plopped into the front seat. Her ponytail was loose and her bookbag half-unzipped. I reached over to close it.

“How was your day, honey?”

She spoke through a mouthful of muffin. “It was so fun! We’re doing a new project.”

“Wow, that’s so exciting, Rikki. You’ll have to tell me about it later.” A car beeped behind me. I edged forward. “Where are Tzippy and Leah? Did you see them?”

Rikki shook her head. I felt my shoulders tense. Where were Elisheva’s daughters? How come Rikki was always out here earlier than they were?

The car behind me released one last beep, then swerved in front of me. I slammed on the brakes. “People are crazy,” I muttered.

Rikki opened sky-blue eyes wide. “Who?”

“Nothing, hon. Oh, here they are.”

Tzippy and Leah clambered into the back seat, arguing.

“Girls, let’s just get buckled up quickly, we need to go,” I said, trying to rein in my impatience.

“She’s putting her bag on my feet!” Leah whined.

“But this morning when you sat in the front, I had everyone’s bags on my feet, and I was in the worst seat,” Tzippy defended herself stubbornly.

I resisted the urge to beep. “Girls, it really doesn’t matter. Let’s go!”

I got to Elisheva’s front door just as her car pulled into the driveway. Perfect timing.

“Hello, everyone!” Elisheva looked tired, but poised: The classic high school teacher. She was a high-school teacher, sheitel perfect, bag bursting with papers and books. Wednesday was her busiest day. She came over to the window. “Dina! Thanks as always. Great timing. Kids, let’s go! You wanna come in for a few minutes, Dina?”

“Not today… I have a client coming soon. See you tomorrow.”

“You bet!” She winked. Elisheva did the mornings, picking up Rikki on her way to take her kids to their respective schools, her youngest to the babysitter, and then on to the high school where she worked. I honestly didn’t know how she did it; I can’t do mornings. But then again, with five kids, she probably didn’t have much of a choice.

I sometimes marveled at it as I waved goodbye to Rikki from the kitchen, snug in my robe and slippers, nursing a cup of coffee and some biscotti or a Danish. There she was, sheitel, makeup and all — plus all the little ones with their bags and lunches. Rikki’s a good kid, but getting her out the door in the mornings is more than enough for me sometimes.

But then again, there are some mornings that my little girl is standing by the front door, French-braided hair, lunchbox and all — and Elisheva’s car takes forever to arrive.

“I’m going to be laaate!” Rikki wailed one morning a few days later. I glanced up from the beauty-products catalogue I’d just received. She was right; it was already nearly ten minutes past pick-up time. I wondered if I should call Elisheva, but she was probably already on the way.

“Look out the window. I’m sure they’ll be here any minute.”

A moment later, a beep sounded. Rikki dashed out the door, leaving it swinging. I went to close it, and Elisheva waved to me. “Crazy morning! The boys aren’t  feeling well. I’ll call you later!” she called out, before driving off at top speed.

I had to laugh; it was so Elisheva. She just seems to breeze through all the craziness, go with the flow. I’m not like that. I need everything to be organized, set in routine. My salon is open for specific afternoon and evening hours, and the slots are usually booked up, so I need to make sure not to run late. Afternoon car pool is totally worth it just for the relaxed mornings.

Elisheva loves the system too. We’ve been doing it like this since Rikki and her Tzippy started elementary school. I get my mornings, she gets home before (or with) her kids, so it’s win-win.

Every year, I got calls: Hi, we’re arranging a car pool, would you want your daughter to join? I guess I’m an obvious choice: one daughter, big car, flexible schedule.

“Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m good,” I usually tell them.

O

ne morning, after another agonizing wait by the door for Elisheva’s car, Sori Weberman called. She had three girls in elementary school and was forever busy with Mothers’ Committee stuff.

“Hi, Dina, how are you?” she asked, then rushed straight on without waiting for an answer. “Here’s the thing: I have one spot left in a car pool, girls’ elementary, morning and afternoon. You’d need to do two afternoons a week, and Friday drop-off every other week. Are you interested?”

I had a dim memory of the same sort of offer last year, but this time I had a harder time brushing it off.

“Who else is in it?”

“The Kupermans and the Glasses. We have one space left. Are you in?”

It was tempting. I knew Sori; she was superefficient. Chaya Kuperman and Aliza Glass were acquaintances, I didn’t know them too well, but if they were part of a Weberman car pool, they probably had standards to match. And then there was the time I would save: two afternoons instead of all of them. And only every other Friday! I hated going out on Fridays.

I wondered what Elisheva would do if I backed out on her. Where else would she find a car pool that accommodated her kids, her schedule, and her easy-going personality? She was my friend; I couldn’t let her down.

I told Sori I wouldn’t be able to join, but I hung up the phone with a little tug of resentment. Did Elisheva even appreciate what I did over here? Every afternoon, right on time, day in and day out. No last-minute frantic texts, no five minutes late. Okay, so she has it harder, with five kids, granted. And she was probably up at nights, too, I realized. For me, those days had been over a long time ago.

I told Shloimi about it later, on my way out the door to car pool.

“You did the right thing,” he affirmed. “Besides, you never know. Maybe the new arrangement totally wouldn’t have worked out. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“I guess so,” I said, and reached for my keys. “Gotta hang up. I’m about to start driving.”

I

ronically, summer vacation this year ended up being my busiest time: I took Rikki to day camp each day, and picked her up as well. Originally, I’d tried to arrange a car pool, but then gave up. It was far too much hassle, far too many complicated calculations.

“I can’t wait to get back to school car pool,” I said one morning, kicking off my shoes. “I can’t take being out of the house so early.”

Shloimi chuckled. “You’re lucky it works out so well. Most people don’t get mornings off all year round.”

I smiled, but then I thought, Yeah, but most people have more kids to look after.

Then Elisheva called. It was a bit out of the blue. We were good friends, but she was always so busy during the day, and my work was mostly evenings, so we never really had a chance to schmooze. Car pool meant we saw each other every day, sometimes got to chat through car windows, but for the most part our calls were technical: One of the girls isn’t in school today, I’m running a bit late, don’t come by for Rikki this morning, she’s got a doctor’s appointment.

“Don’t tell me you miss car pool,” I said into the phone.

Elisheva laughed, but it sounded a little stilted. “Hi to you, too. How’s your summer going?”

“Good, good, busy. Can’t handle the drives to and from day camp. It takes up half the day, no?”

Elisheva murmured something in assent. Her husband was in chinuch, too. They probably split the driving. Lucky her, to have her husband on summer vacation also. It sounded noisy enough in the background, though, even with a second pair of adult hands.

“Just a second. Boys! Can you come out of there, please, and get ready to go out? Tatty will be here any second. Tzippy, I’m on the phone, it’s going to have to wait a minute. Dina?”

“Mm-hmm.” I threw a loose napkin into the garbage and wiped down the counter. Maybe I should bake something.

“Listen, Dina, I feel really bad,” Elisheva said, all in a rush. “I’m going to have to pull out of car pool for next year… Dovi! That’s dangerous! Come down, please! Sorry, Dina? You there?”

I was.

“I hope it’s not a major hassle for you,” Elisheva went on, sounding apologetic. “I just found an arrangement that works better, takes care of the boys, not just the girls, and also my toddler, who’s starting daycare… it’s just been so crazy in the mornings.”

I opened my mouth and closed it again. I literally didn’t know what to say.

“Dina?”

I blurted the first thing that came to my mind. “Why are you only letting me know so late? I could’ve joined something else, but now? It’s already vacation. Who’s going to be arranging new car pools a few weeks before the start of the school year?”

Elisheva was quiet. I could picture her biting her lip, an uncertain look on her face. “I dunno, Dina, I mean, this car pool only called me yesterday… I’m really sorry.”

I was so angry, I could hardly speak. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” I said. “Just because you have five kids to carpool and I only have one, you think it’s not a big deal to let me down like this?”

Now Elisheva’s voice was really subdued. “I’m sorry, Dina. I needed to. It wasn’t going to work for me, to continue our arrangement.”

“But you could’ve called me and discussed it!” I exploded. “Or told me earlier, or something. Oh, forget it.” It was obviously too late; she’d made up her mind. I wasn’t going to waste my breath. “Well, have a good summer.”

As soon as I put down the phone, I looked up Sori Weberman’s number. She was sweet and sympathetic, but they’d filled the spot already. Maybe I should call Adina Katz, though?

I went through most of my contacts, but with no luck. Everyone seemed to have a car pool organized already. “Maybe next year,” someone told me.

But next year, I thought when I put down the phone, was a long way away.

I

f I could tell Elisheva one thing, it would be:

I put myself out to make things easy and convenient for you. How can you let me down now, without giving me adequate time to make new arrangements?

 

Elisheva:

A

ll the articles tell you to be proactive about the mornings, to plan for crises, to be more organized. I’ve tried it all: preparing the clothes, preparing the lunches, packing my bag, signing tests — literally everything, the night before. And still, it’s always a rush — and it’s never predictable. Someone’s running a fever, someone overslept, someone’s shirt has a stain. She can’t find her bag, he’s crying, they’re fighting, and I’m once again putting on lipstick with one hand, in the car, and praying that we make it to school without running a red light.

It wasn’t like I liked the rush; it was more like I couldn’t do anything about it. Car pool was crazy, five kids to get ready and herd out to the car, plus pick up my friend Dina’s Rikki, and then do two drop-offs and head straight to work. But honestly, it was better than doing pick-up. At least with drop off, once it was done, it was done for the day. Dina picked up the girls, and Chaim worked as an afternoon rebbi in the boys’ school, so they came home with him.

“Dovi, Yanky, let’s go!” I called one morning, dashing into the dining room to pick up the Chumash I’d been using until 2 a.m. to prepare for a class. “Into the car, everyone! Tzippy, don’t forget the note for your teacher!”

There was a wail from the kitchen. Brachi needed changing, of course, just when the older four were finally ready. We hightailed it down to Dina’s house, and I beeped twice. Rikki was out the door before the horn even finished. Thank goodness Dina is super reliable.

Still, if I only had one kid to prep in the mornings, I’d probably be just as punctual. As long as the kids made it to their respective schools in time for the second bell, I refused to feel bad. And when I finished my last class for the day, answered sundry extra questions, collected all my things, fetched Brachi from the school’s built-in daycare center, and made it home before Dina arrived with the gang, I felt like a hero.

“S

he’s really growing up,” Mrs. Gross, the daycare center supervisor, told me one afternoon. “We’ll miss having her next year, won’t we, Brach-Brach?”

Right, next year. Gosh, I’d nearly forgotten. She was registered for nursery. I did that months ago, but now it entered my mind that that would mean an extra detour every morning. And how about the afternoons? Would Dina agree to pick up my toddler as well, before going on to the girls’ school?

“And we’ll miss seeing you every day, too,” Mrs. Gross added, chuckling. “That’s a bonus of having your little ones here. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get to catch up, would we?”

I gave an absent smile. What Mrs. Gross didn’t know — and what we’d only just found out — was that there would be another baby coming to join the daycare center by the middle of next year.

I buckled Brachi into her car seat. Wait. Another baby? Forget the nursery car pool, I couldn’t even fit all my kids in the car anymore once the baby would come. The infant seat takes up too much space, but then Brachi would probably have graduated from her car seat, so maybe I could fit the five of them, but there was no way I could take Rikki to school anymore.

“Should we get a bigger car?” I asked Chaim, only half-joking. “What should we do? Will you watch the baby, and I’ll come back after car pool to pick her up? But you need to leave way earlier, and besides, it doesn’t make sense, I’d go 20 minutes out of the way for nothing.”

“Do the nursery drop-off before picking up Rikki?” he suggested.

I frowned. “No, the nursery is right near the girls’ school. I’d have to leave way earlier and it’s crazy enough in the mornings as it is.”

Just thinking about the mornings with another baby made me a bit dizzy. Wow, we really needed to figure something out. Okay, it wouldn’t be relevant right away, but I couldn’t be stuck without a car pool a few months into the year.

“I guess I’ll have to find some new arrangement, maybe a car pool just for nursery school,” I said. “But I don’t even know where to start! Dina always planned car pool. We’ve been doing it together for years….”

At the thought of Dina, my stomach plunged. She’d be so upset if I couldn’t work this out. And I couldn’t even explain, not like I really wanted to. I didn’t need to rub it in her face that I was expecting, again.

I’d mentioned casually that things were going to be more complicated next year, with Brachi starting nursery. “I might need to find her a separate car pool.”

But Dina didn’t seem too concerned. “Right, I get it,” she said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

I wondered if I should tell her that it might affect my being able to take Rikki, but I decided against it. I had to find something for Brachi, otherwise it wouldn’t just be letting Dina down — I’d have to start doing all the afternoon runs, too. And that was really impossible. For one thing, I didn’t even finish work until after the girls were let out.

And then I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. Clearly it was a group text, forwarded to all her contacts, because it read something like this:

Hi Everyone. If you’re interested in joining car pool for girls elementary/boys elementary/girls nursery/etc. please LMK.

I’d never gotten these texts before. I didn’t think twice. I needed a car pool for Brachi, anyway. We’d see what this anonymous organizer had to offer.

I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. Maybe I should’ve been more optimistic, though.

“Chaim, you’ll never believe this,” I told my husband that night. “Mrs. Perl is organizing four separate car pools, and all of our kid’s schools and nurseries are included! She had room for all five of them, with different drop-offs and pick-ups every day. I just have to do two mornings with the boys, and one afternoon pick-up for the girls.”

He shook his head. “Unbelievable. It’s better for me, too, by the way. I’m always rushing out of class and the twins are often waiting already. This way, I’ll be able to stay a little later when needed, they’ll have their own car pool. I’m so happy that worked out.”

“So am I,” I said fervently.

It wasn’t just the Brachi problem solved, it was a whole different story for me to do two mornings instead of five. And the one afternoon, she promised, would be a Tuesday — my day off. Imagine having those extra minutes in the mornings, when all the kids down to Brachi would be picked up from the door. I couldn’t wait. And after the baby, this system would be way easier.

The only catch was, of course, Dina. What would I tell her?

“Look, Elisheva, I know you feel bad, but really, she has it easier,” Chaim pointed out. “She only has one daughter to arrange for, you have five, going on six, b’ezras Hashem. She’ll understand. It won’t be so hard for her to make a new arrangement.”

I wasn’t so sure. But then again, car pools are always changing. It wasn’t like we had signed a ten-year contract. Each year brings changes, especially when there are many children involved.

But then again, I couldn’t exactly say that.

W

hen I finally picked up the phone, having procrastinated until the next day, Dina actually brought up the subject of car pool herself. I stalled for time, asking how her summer was going.

“Good, good, busy.” Dina sounded full of energy. “I can’t handle the drives to and from day camp. It takes up half the day, no?” She laughed.

Busy? Driving one daughter to and from camp each day? I nearly snorted out loud. My house was a wreck, I was stuck in the armchair with no energy to move, and the kids were playing some wild game upstairs that was going to end in tears, I knew.

“Ma, Ma, when are you taking us to the library?” Tzippy tugged at me.

“Ma, the boys are jumping on the beds in the guest room,” Leah informed me.

“Just a second,” I told Dina. “Boys! Please come out of there and get ready to go out. Tatty will be here any second. Tzippy, I’m on the phone, it’s going to have to wait a minute. Dina?”

I dragged myself off the armchair to check the damage in the guest room. “Um, so Dina, I feel really bad.” Ugh, that sounded awful. A wail sounded from upstairs. Brachi had just woke up from her nap. This was a really bad time to have a conversation. “I’m going to have to pull out of car pool for next year,” I said, before I could lose my nerve. “It’s… Dovi!” I came out of the guestroom just in time to see him swing over the upstairs bannister, preparing to jump. “That’s dangerous! Come down, please! Sorry, Dina. You there?”

“I am.” Her voice was cold. Oh, boy, did this conversation come out wrong. I lifted Brachi up and let her cuddle me. It sounded like Chaim was back. Phew! I could finish the phone call and survey the damage after.

“I hope it’s not a major hassle for you, I just found an arrangement that works better, takes care of the boys and girls and also my toddler, who’s starting nursery… it’s just been so crazy in the mornings.” I couldn’t really explain more, but at least it was something.

She didn’t answer.

“Dina?”

She finally spoke. “Why are you only letting me know so late? I could’ve joined something else, but now? It’s already vacation. Who’s going to be arranging new car pools a few weeks before the start of the school year?”

I bit my lip, feeling terrible. Brachi hiccupped in my arms. “I… I’m really sorry. This car pool only called me yesterday….”

I wanted her to know I hadn’t planned this and I felt really bad, but that honestly, I didn’t have a choice.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” she hissed. I listened, helpless. And then she added, “Just because you have five kids to car pool, and I only have one, you think it’s not a big deal to let me down like this?”

My heart ached. I felt so sorry for her. And in a couple of months, when my news would be public, she’d feel even worse.

“Well, have a good summer,” she finally said icily. I stammered something back, but I don’t even know if she heard.

Chaim stuck his head into the room. “Oh, there you are.” He took another look at me. “Um, Elisheva? What’s going on?”

I sighed. “I just spoke to Dina.”

He nodded. “Oh. That.” Then he shrugged. “But really, Elisheva, you couldn’t have done anything different, right?”

I couldn’t have. But it didn’t make me feel any better.

I

f I could tell Dina one thing, it would be:

I appreciate what you’ve done over the last few years, but my family’s needs have changed, and it’s just not going to work to carpool. together anymore. —

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 773)

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