A Psychological Study of School Pick Up and Drop Off

There are many things in this world that perplex me like how did jackfruit become a culinary trend? Have you tried cutting open a jackfruit? I swear brain surgery is probably less labor intensive and gooey.

The mystery of the jackfruit, though intriguing because I believe it has an alien back story, is no match in the bewilderment department for the enigma that is school drop off and pick up. Why is it so hard for parents to grasp the fundamentals of delivering and retrieving their kids to and from school?

I, with much gratitude, have not had to endure a school drop off and pick up line in three years. But, for my friends with younger children lately the school drop off rage has been intense. Because I fancy myself a social scientist  (not a busy body thank you very much) I decided to observe three school drop off lines at three separate schools.

My mission was to gauge if the situation has gotten worse since my school driving days or were these parents just being drama queens. I’ll honestly tell you I was totally thinking drama queens because there’s no way school pick up and drop off parental stupidity could have descended even lower. It was in the caverns of  of hell during my tenure and I was adamant that it had nowhere to go but up.

I was wrong.

Frankly, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m still a little shaken by the whole experiment. I think my biggest take away is that people’s reading comprehension skills have taken a serious hit.

That’s the only polite explanation I can come up with for a large swath of adults not understanding signage that plainly states “no parking,” “beginning of drop off/pick up line,” and “pull forward.” These are not even sentences but three and four word directives at a first grade reading level. Surely parents should be able to understand their meaning.

But to blame the whole school pick up/drop off quagmire solely on reading skills would be a mistake because the real issue is psychological. To fully understand the issue you have to probe a parent’s brain. Why, for instance, are some parents adamant about not pulling forward in the line?

In the name of scientific research I asked one mother who was not pulling up this question and she made a face while stating in a very unpleasant tone that she was waiting for her kids.

I queried back with, “But couldn’t you wait for your kids pulled up a little further in the line?” This earned me a window being rolled up in my face.

I didn’t blame her because I knew I had hit a nerve. Her car was perched almost perfectly in front of the school’s front doors and there was no way she was going to let her babies (full disclosure this happened at a middle school) walk any further than they had to.

Which takes us to another layer of a parent’s psychological make up. Why do we get our kids fitness trackers, $300 Apple watches and sign them up for loads of sports activities and then swoon at the thought of them having to walk more than 20 yards to the family car?

Armed with my research I went home and tried to formulate a reasonable explanation for the seemingly growing number of parents who freelance with the established school pick up/drop off protocol. The only thing I could come up with is that for some parents the “rules never apply to me” must be a family motto.

The best suggestion I have is that they get those feelings emblazoned on a bumper sticker so the rest of the parents know who to avoid every morning and afternoon.

(For more education on this topic I urge you to read this highly formative guide for the school drop off and pick up procedure https://snarkyinthesuburbs.com/2011/03/25/10-steps-to-a-successful-school-drop-off/)

The Idiot’s Guide to Picking Up Your Kids From School

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 I thought 10 Steps to a Successful School Drop Off would have been enough information to help parents safely navigate the treacherous school drop off/pick up waters. Sadly, dear friends I was wrong. So, because you asked here is the safety guide for retrieving your children from school. As always feel free to laminate this in the teacher’s work room and post it outside your school’s parking area.

1) Do not at any time “freelance” from the correct entrance and exit points to your child’s school. Not even if your uber talented angel, who everyone that will still listen to you knows is a freaking sports prodigy, has a private, very expensive, oh so hard to get lesson, from pick one: a batting coach, almost MLS soccer God, former Division 3 NCAA football star, dance legend, as seen on TV Cheer captain etc. and this means you’ve got to pick up your kid right this very minute because that lesson starts soon and the money clock is tick, tick, ticking. This harrowing, almost crisis VIP situation, still does not give you permission to enter in the exit only lane, drive on the grass, hop a curb, park in the school bus area and generally give every other parent that is following the rules the middle finger with your car management behavior.

2) If you’re in the school pick up line and your precious child gets to the car and announces they forgot their homework and will need to go back into the school DO NOT remain in the pick up line. You will hold up the line for God only knows how long because there is n-o-t-h-i-n-g slower than a kid going back into a school to look for something. You have two choices. 1) Tell your child to get in the car and then proceed to a school parking lot. From there you both go into the school for homework rescue. 2) Send your absent-minded sweetie back into the school and inform him/her that you will be waiting for them in the school parking lot.

3) The school pick up lane is not an informal sorority rush function or a Kappa mixer with the Chi O’s. This means Under No Circumstances do you, the parent/driver, leave your car. I know it’s tempting when you’ve got five minutes to kill till the bell rings and there’s Sarah sitting in her Suburban and it’s been maybe a whole two hours since you talked to her at the Pilates studio and wow, a lot has happened since then, like you just found out that Mandi is going to be chair of the Junior League Christmas Affair. Are you F’ing kidding me? Regardless, I implore you to resist the urge to exit your vehicle. Stay seated and distract yourself by doing a Kegal workout (remember to keep those muscles contracted for at least 10 seconds at a time) because we all know what’s going to happen when you get out of your car. Sure, you’ll start by chatting up the Escalady behind you but then because you’re one super popular mom and you’re having an excellent hair day you’ll begin working the pick up lane like it’s a receiving line at a wedding. Before you know it you’re engrossed in some juicy gossip with the mom 15 cars back, so juicy you don’t notice the kids are out of school and meanwhile your empty vehicle has been holding up the pick up lane for 10 minutes.

4) You also do not leave your vehicle to go inside the school to check on one little thing that you know will only take a minute. Less than a minute really because you just need to ask a quick question. It never takes a minute. Elementary and middle schools are the lands that time forget. Once you enter a single minute magically stretches into 20 and there you are inside blissful unaware that your empty car is creating a parking lane log jam.

5) If you are volunteering at the school do not make the mistake of parking your car at the beginning of the pick up lane. Yes, I know you arrived at school at 1 p.m. so you could cut out fall leaves for the cafeteria bulletin boards and of course no one was in the pick up lane at 1 and quite frankly you think you should get the first space in line because hello, you’re volunteering. Shouldn’t there be some upside? But here’s the problem, by the time the bell rings you are still not at your car because you got distracted either admiring your handiwork with scissors (Seriously, fall leaves have never been cut with more precision and attention to detail) or by chatting with various members of the school staff so there sits your driverless car, all alone, creating gridlock more impressive than those leaves you cut.

6) Restrain yourself with the best of your ability to not flee from you car the moment you see your children’s happy faces walk out of the school building. I know it’s hard to wait even one second longer to give those bundles of awesomeness great big hugs and sprinkle kisses up and down their faces as those other, less loving, and dare I say lazy moms, just sit in their SUV’s and wait for their kids to actually open their own car door. I mean OMG, you’ve been separated from your love bugs for seven agonizing hours. What kind of mother doesn’t get out of her car? Who cares about holding up the line? Just take a couple of deep breaths. You’ll have them all to yourselves very soon and then you can do a great big family hug and ignore them as soon as you get home to watch a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills marathon.

7) If you are sending Nana, the nanny or a neighbor to collect your kids from school I not only beg you to make sure they know how the school pick up lane works but I suggest a trial run with you in the car for guidance. One timid grandma, texting nanny, or clueless neighbor can clog up the whole pick up procedure. I once saw some kid’s Papaw reduced to tears and he was a Vietnam Vet. This kid retrieval process is not for the faint of heart. Forget the Vietcong, there’s not much meaner than a mom who has to go to the bathroom (like you wouldn’t believe how bad because right before she came to get her kids she made a quick grocery store run and there was no way she was going to use the restrooms at Walmart), has three kids to get to soccer practice in less than 30 minutes and is about to run out of gas stuck behind a great grandpa in a 1979 Buick LaSabre who doesn’t know he’s supposed to move up in the line not stay parked.

If you already abide by these rules I salute not only your common sense but your higher level cognitive intelligence. Go forth now my smart friends and lead by example.