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Now that it’s ending, I can admit it: I loved carpooling my kids

As much as parents may groan about chauffeuring kids from one game to another, there are some benefits.

Images from Adobe Stock/photo illustration by Megan Lam

My kids have aged out of needing baby sitters. Now another parenting rite of passage is ending: the car pool.

Our daughter is 17 and recently ended one phase of her junior operator’s license, which in Massachusetts is an 18-month window designed to help new drivers get comfortable behind the wheel. For the first six months after getting a license, new drivers are allowed to drive alone, or with family, but not unsupervised with friends.

To her, the day she was allowed to start driving friends by herself was the day when official independence began, the end of reliance on mom or dad for group rides. But for her mom and me, that day marked the end of car pools with her friends (we still have a few more years of it with her brother), and she may not believe it, but we sort of secretly loved those drives.

As much as parents may groan about the shuttling of kids from one game to another, there is one satisfying, funny, loud, smelly, dirty aspect to all those trips. It starts that moment when two, three, four, maybe five kids pile into a car, and, well, you know what happens next.


First, the trunk or back seat gets stuffed with hockey or football bags big enough to carry a small child, baseball or softball bats and gloves, lacrosse sticks and pads, helmets, basketballs, and volleyballs. Of course, each kid has a water bottle and inevitably no week ends without at least one stray bottle left in the back seat to be reclaimed on another journey.

Then there are the uniforms — drenched in sweat, still clinging to their bodies. When the children are younger than 10, the sweat on their faces is so cute, right? Their apple red cheeks the picture of childhood innocence. Then one day it’s not so cute anymore. All you notice is a stench wafting through your car that resembles something close to that laundry bin at home filled with three wet towels, 12 pairs of dirty socks, and a bag of week-old gummy bears. During the warm months, it’s not even a question: windows down, air conditioning off.


And finally, there’s the noise. As the car fills up, the volume inside goes from a James Taylor concert to an AC/DC scream fest (yes, I’m showing my age). The radio will change from sports radio or NPR or ‘90s grunge rock to a Spotify playlist full of Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Drake, Mac Miller, and Harry Styles. Depending on the age of the kids, the chatter bounces between an annoying history quiz tomorrow, the upcoming PSATs, parties this weekend, the latest round of “Call of Duty,” or the epic finish in last night’s “Fortnite Battle Royale.”

Sometimes, they might actually talk about the game they just played — or are about to play. But usually, it’s everything but the game.

And the liveliest car pools? Those are the ones where a song comes on, everything else stops, and the vehicle becomes a karaoke bar where everybody knows every word to TSwift’s “Anti-Hero.”

But really the best part of these car pools is the interactions — seeing friendships evolve, watching kids slowly pull away from their parents, learning what makes them tick — and what ticks them off.


For a long time, my wife and I used different tactics. I relished a chance to chime in on the music playlist, to mention a play in the game, to ask about that history quiz and try to impress with my World War II knowledge. My wife played the invisible fly on the wall, content to be the chauffeur eavesdropping on the lives of her kids, hoping to learn something she knew she would never learn at home.

It took me a few years to accept her approach was better. Of course, it helped that my kids would ignore anything I said. But I learned to be OK with that. I didn’t control the music in the car, but I did control, for a few minutes, a rolling, rollicking journey toward adulthood.

Doug Most is the executive editor at Boston University. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.