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Expressway: Surviving the Long Island car pool

Behind the wheel.

Behind the wheel. Photo Credit: iStock

My first child turned 16 on Friday, and Monday we plan to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to pick up his learner's permit.

It's a milestone for Jackson, but also for me. My carpooling days are almost over!

As many Long Island parents know, carpooling is essential to survival. That's an exaggeration, maybe, but the best way to keep our sanity -- and save energy, time and gasoline -- is to join forces with other parents to drive kids around to endless activities and parties.

Car pools generally take shape at the beginning of each school year. In each group, there seems to be a superorganized mom who emails the others a color-coded Excel spreadsheet to map out the drivers, dates and events. It's the best way to treat all families fairly.

My son was 11 when I first joined a car pool. At the time, I had a crossover SUV that seated only four children. It wasn't enough room, so I sadly traded it in for an eight-passenger SUV.

Suburban parents will recognize these scenes: The children are rounded up from a party or other event. I make an announcement, asking everyone to make sure they have their phones and jackets. Still, some miles down the road, one suddenly declares that he or she has forgotten a -- fill in the blank -- phone, sweater or party favor. In a moment like this, an experienced driver automatically calculates the time and miles to go back and retrieve the article -- or not.

Then there are kids who forget that you, the adult, are actually in the vehicle -- as if the car is just magically transporting them from point A to point B. Spirited conversations unfold and you learn a thing or two about so-and-so's promiscuous behavior and provocative clothing (to put it nicely).

On the way to one party, in an effort to accommodate a group of 12-year-old girls, I played pop music on the radio. One bold passenger in the second row, right behind me, started playing a song on her iPhone on full volume, singing loudly as if I, and the car stereo, were nonexistent.

Some parents who drive are extra tolerant. These are the moms and dads who acquiesce when a child, maybe someone seated way back in the third row, asks late at night if he or she can visit a McDonald's or Wendy's drive-through on the way home from a party where the hosts spent tons of money on food and drinks for the guests. My son reminds me that I was never one of those heroes.

Then there are the sports-team car pools, which change with the seasons. These are usually composed of smaller groups of kids, depending on the size of the equipment bag each one drags along. Bags for ice and roller hockey might even have wheels.

My son played ice hockey for quite a while and the last thing I wanted was to drive a car full of kids who couldn't tie their own skates. It was hard enough lacing up my own son's pair while attending to his shin guards, elbow and shoulder pads and hard-to-fasten helmet. When those boys turned 12 and 13, as soon as they got into the car, it smelled like a sweaty locker room. That's when the windows went down!

I still have a 14-year-old daughter to drive around, but the trips are fewer and I'm happily back to a normal-sized, five-seat SUV.

When my son gets his license, I doubt I'll miss driving packs of kids around town, but I will miss what the car pool represents: a time when he needed me for just about everything.

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