Asleep at the Wheel

The carpool line at school -- a mom's perspective.
The carpool line at school -- a mom's perspective.

Falling asleep in the carpool line is a fear I find hard to explain.

After the first few days of lining up in two rows of many, I came perilously close to napville, leaving me to wonder what would happen should I drift off to dreamland in a place where my role as a parent is so obviously on display.

It could so easily happen. Safely ensconced in the cockpit of an SUV, trapped between other cars idling in stillness? The silence is unusual after five years as the stay at home mother of twins.

In order to fend off the sleep I’ve created a work environment from the inside of my Toyota. Forty-five minutes in a vehicle on wheels turned capsule for focused work.

Yesterday as I pulled into the line, I began the routine that keeps me awake.

Emails and calls and bills, oh my.

At 3:15 on the nose the cars started to move.

Rather, the cars in the lane to my right started to move.

My line stood still, stopped by the unmoving vehicle two spaces ahead of mine.

For two or three eternity-filled minutes no one moved from their cars to investigate until I, rejuvenated by an enthusiastic conference call, seized the moment and sprang into action.

As I jumped out and walked over to the car, a little boy was in the back playing happily with a toy.

In the front, fast asleep, was his mom.

Head tipped uncomfortably to the side, slumped deep into the folds of her seat, she looked vulnerable, which made me sad.

Wearing un-matching sweats, as if she’d been home all day doing what moms do, she could have been me. She might as well have been me.

I tapped the window, but she didn't stir.

“Sweetie,” I said, “The line is moving. It’s time to go…”

Tapped again, while watching her son oblivious to his mother’s weariness.

I reached through the open window to tap her on her shoulder, but R.E.M had taken her to dreamland far, far away.

I knew I said it too softly, but “Sweetie the line is moving.”

I opened the door and rested my hand on her arm.

"Sweetie," I whispered. "It’s time to go."

Just as I wake my girls after a long night’s rest, minus the Telly Tubby “Sleepy Head That’s Not Your Bed” song, I gently jostled her to wake.

Just then did she open her eyes and look at me with confusion. Her eyes focused on my face, and I tried to look unhurried, so as not to embarrass her or jolt her to consciousness.

"You fell asleep Sweetie. The line's moving.”

I held her arm for another second, and then said with a smile, “You’re okay. I got you.”

Valley Girl slang exposing itself in a moment of unexpected bonding.

I ran back to my car, and as the line started to move I thought three things.

  1. I was happy to have been the one to wake her.
  2. I never call anyone “Sweetie.”
  3. Moms work harder, longer, with little pay, and often without praise so that their children grow up to be strong, and smart, and good.


I ’ve never felt more connected to a stranger in my whole, entire life.