The Carpool Octopus (Wasting Time I Should Be Maximizing)

“I’m not an octopus!”  That was the sweet phrase that left my lips as I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in my rearview mirror.  At that moment, I was simultaneously attempting to fill a bowl with bunny crackers, skip past the previews on the “Sid the Science Kid” movie playing on our portable DVD player and catch an errant tennis ball (more on the tennis ball in a moment).  The eye that caught my reflection in the rearview mirror was harried and crazy.  The whole situation was, in fact, harried and crazy.  And it’s all because I was trying to make the most of our time in the car.

I spend a lot of time in my car.  So much time, in fact, that my sapphire blue Honda CR-V is beginning to look more like a combination kitchen/playroom/library/office rather than a simple mode of transportation.  I recently did the math and calculated that I spend six and a half hours a week simply hanging out in the car driving my kids to school or picking them up from school.  SIX AND A HALF HOURS.  On CARPOOL.  Every WEEK!

I’m not exaggerating these numbers.  I’m not counting the time that I am actually inside of the preschool collecting Huck Finn and chatting with his teacher.  I’m not counting the time we meander back to the car, jumping over cracks or giving and getting tickle attacks.  I’m not counting the time I volunteer for the school, either.  This is the literal time spent in the car during one week of school.

It totally freaked me out when I realized how much time I was wasting in carpool.  I know the value of time – I consider it more precious than money – and I have always tried to squeeze as much as I can out of every valuable minute.  Understanding that six and a half hours of precious time were being spent in the car each week nearly gave me a stroke.  The knowledge accelerated my stress to such an extent that I became almost manic about the situation.  I started thinking about all the things I could/should be doing with that time, and decided that if I my kids and I had to be in the car that many hours each week, then by God we’d use that time WISELY!  We’d read – we’d watch movies – I’d give the kids some food for their never-ending hunger.  I’d bring along some library books.  I’d use the time to return emails and texts.  Could I do some at-home school volunteering stuff?  Could I meal-plan?  Was there a podcast I needed to catch up on?  Maybe I could even I’d do some stress-relieving exercises – enter the tennis balls, which can be used as quite effective massage tools when placed between my back and the driver’s seat.  (Tennis ball massage is seriously awesome.  If you get nothing else from this blog post, go buy yourself some tennis balls for just this purpose).

On the day that I declared that I wasn’t an octopus, however, the stress-relieving tennis ball back massage was clearly not working.  I was so frazzled that I could barely speak, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing what needed to be done – it was because I was trying to do more than needed to be done.  Carpool is about safely transporting my children to and from their place of learning.  I was doing that.  The kids were safe and healthy, and their little brains were full to the max after a day of math, reading, science, art and P.E.  However, in deciding that I needed to do more than simply drive the kids around, because in my mind that time was completely wasteful, I was robbing the time of any possible chance at peace or tranquility.

I resent the fact that I have to spend six and a half hours of my time every week stuck in a car with my kid, so I refuse to accept that this is just part of the deal.  That’s pretty ridiculous of me.  Transportation is a part of everyone’s job.  It’s not unique to me.  In choosing to resent this fact, rather than accept it, I was choosing to making those six and a half hours pretty miserable for my two little boys and me.  Rather than enjoying time together, chatting casually about our days, it was almost a race to see how quickly we could get strapped into carseats and then a race to see how many things I could cross off my to-do list.

The place I do some of my multi-tasking may be different than the place you do most of your multi-tasking, but I’m willing to bet that each of you reading this blog multi-tasks at some point during the day/week/month.  We have a lot to do and not enough time to do it all, so we try to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of every second of the day by controlling every second available to us.  Are we really maximizing our time, though?  I’m starting to doubt that we are.  In fact, I think that the time I spend trying to maximize productivity is the least productive time of my day.

The picture of me and my two kids in the car is a perfect image of the lost productivity and resulting demoralization that comes from the futile attempt to jam multiple activities into one short time frame which was not intended to support said activities.  In a sense, I have a big round hole that I’m trying to plug many smaller, differently-shaped holes into.  The hole is created by my commute.  I feel such an enormous sense of waste during this commute that I try to jam it full with eating, drinking, reading, watching movies, listening to books on tape, catching up on the news, texting friends, returning emails, filling my calendar, writing to-do lists, helping my kids play games on the iPad, and even giving myself back massages with tennis balls in my driver’s seat.  The tennis ball thing is pretty cool.  But the rest of it?  The value is negligible, at best.

Inevitably, the moment we get home every evening is the most stressful moment of the day.  The Professor, Huck Finn and I escape my car to run into the house as if we were freed from prison.  We each have half-finished books or games on our laps and empty water bottles or coffee cups to clean.  We have more to do when we get out of the car than we had when we got into it, and we certainly aren’t sweet and friendly and chatty with each other.  We are tense, strained and jittery.  I wonder how much of that has to do with the simple fact of the commute itself versus the amount of extraneous activities I’ve been trying to cram into that commute?

I try to defy the time I spend in my car each week, as if I can outsmart it.  I go to inhuman lengths to pretend that the time isn’t wasted.  BUT IT DOESN’T WORK.  All it really does is leave me incredible stressed out and make a giant mess of my CR-V.

I started this blog to try to learn self-acceptance, and I’ve just discovered something else I have to accept.  It’s simple, really.

I have to learn to accept that I’m not an octopus.

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