Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Out of line

We all line up like dominoes in the carpool lane; we must face the same way or risk fouling the momentum. I'm the pilot of just another minivan in a line of minivans. There's a handful of SUVs, a few crossovers, and sometimes, grandma or grandpa's sedan. The rules apply to everyone even though the details might vary in unimportant ways. We pull up to curb carefully, cut the engines, and adjust our carpool numbers that hang from rear-view mirrors on plastic clothes hangers or are wedged in the way down of the front windshield. It's important that we display our tags so the teachers can tell us apart from the other chauffeurs.

It's not a rule, as such, but we are a quiet group. Children are behind those red brick walls shoring up their education with learning blocks. We know that our place in the system is to maintain order and that begs quiet. You can understand, then, why I was confused by the booming music in carpool a few days ago. Thump, thump went a loud bass line and instinctively I looked up to the main road waiting for the Doppler-effect sound to let me know that a carload of teens had passed us by. But it never came. WhEE-oo. I thought I heard it; I wanted to hear it.

I groped around for another cause. Was the marching band around the back of the school practicing with brass and drum line? I could imagine them in maroon, white, and blue uniforms, mis-stepping, out-of-time, and out-of-tune. But this is elementary school. I'm here to collect my kindergartner. They don't march here. They don't do uniforms and sousaphones. Thump-a, thump-a, digga-digga, crash. That music was coming from somewhere closer.

I couldn't accept that the music came from a fellow domino. We carpoolers are rule followers; we identify and define ourselves by our knowledge of "how things are done around here." I would not blast bass-heavy pop tunes while waiting in the carpool line no more than I'd knowingly blow through a red light or cheat on my taxes, or eat my bananas at the grocery store before paying for them. We---I---abide by rules. I abide in them. And while I know that others may not always adhere, I focused on finding an excuse, another offender, rather than accept that a fellow parent would crank up the boom-boom levels on the car radio while we waited to have our kindergartners deposited in their booster seats.

It's not the offense itself that bothered me. I'm not so prude that I get rankled by loud music. It was the hint of doing something not because it's outlined by decorum, but because it feels good to do it. To do something just because it pleases is not in keeping with my usual motivations. I act a part in a community of players, which, while sometimes wearyingly vanilla, is a comfort that carries me through the many rote, unstimulating tasks associated with child-rearing. The shared sameness makes it easier to bear the suppression of identities. To witness one of our number stepping out of line made my own fingers itch to turn the radio up.

Today, he was there again. I don't know which parent in our line has the beat, but a second day of seat rattling bass laid any doubts I had to rest. There was a wonky domino in our line. He wasn't afraid to let his music announce that carpool and play dates and swim lessons and dance classes and t-ball and the assorted clutter that makes up our daily schedules are keeping us parents from being the individuals we set out to be at first breath. The children to whom we intone "be yourself" are the same children in whose names we are abandoning our own senses of self. He brought to mind my mother and father, and theirs, and their parents before them who were all five once and told they might be the next great person to move and shake through the world by parents who'd all but stopped moving toward their own desires. But all any of them had to do was to turn up the bass and set the beat.

I'm going to remember the rogue domino the next time I'm poised to sign away another hour a week of my life to the training and entertainment of my children. Maybe we'll sit the next story time out while I make a few stories of my own.