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Life Lessons from the School Pick Up Line

Oh my word, nothing is as fraught with emotion as the school pick up line. Sitting in my rockin’ white minivan, I can go from inspired, to exasperated, to hopeful, to horrified, to disbelieving, to furious, to wonder (as in wondering if the grown ups in the line all need glasses like me and that’s why they are parking right in front of the No Parking signs) and back to inspired all in the time it takes for my kids to run to my car.

I think one of the underlying issues here is not that we are horrible people, but instead that we don’t realize that our kids activities are really not that important. Life has conditioned us so that the idea of getting our kid to fishing class five minutes late feels like an emergency. Making it home with 45 minutes for kids to change and eat before ballet feels like life or death. Making it to swim class so we can be in line before the teacher calls our kids’ name is the holy grail of our evening.

But it shouldn’t be. We need to breathe deep and override that flight or fight response. It has served humans well over time, but we don’t need it here. In this day and age we no longer have to worry about being eaten by a lion, but our body reacts like we are on the run from one when we are in the school pick up line, waiting to beat the clock. 

This is no way to live.

We all need to get a grip. In the past few weeks, I have learned a few lessons we can all get a little something out of. So sit back and join me my friends, each of these lessons applies to picking up, dropping off and also to pretty much any situation in life you can think of where you are around other people.

A few lessons are obvious, simple, and are things my kindergartner is also working on, so he and I can form a support group to get through this if we need to. Things like:

Take turns.  No brainer here people. We can’t always be first. For real. Sometimes we need to let other people go before us for safety and to just be a good ol’ human being. Try this in line anywhere and feel your heart swell with the joy of being the nice guy.

Don’t cut in line Loosely related to take turns, this is one a surprising amount of grown ups seem to have forgotten. It’s tempting when you are in a hurry. But remember, there is no lion. We are not being chased and even if we were it would be pretty mean to cut in front of someone else to leave them to be eaten. Luckily, there’s only soccer practice waiting and no one will die from being 2 minutes late.

Stay in your space We’re not dealing with staying on our carpet squares, but instead we are trying to keep our two ton metal vehicles from crashing into each other or into a person. Even more important than staying on your square. We need to be aware of our own space and stay in it. Nosing our way into someone else’s spot could have big consequences. 

Use nice words. Even if someone disobeys a rule. Even if we are really frustrated. Even if we really, really want to say a bad word and feel it will cleanse our soul. Just don’t. The kids are watching and in front of an elementary school is not where we want to show off this portion of our vocabulary. Model good behavior even if it kills us. Nice words win in any situation.

Listen to the grown ups The people directing traffic and asking us to obey the rules are here to help. Yelling at them about why we have to abandon our car in the pull forward lane is not helpful. Making them knock on our window and ask us to move our vehicles is a bummer for everyone. Just do what they are asking because we should. Pretty sure we can apply this one to children’s sporting events as well.

These lead us to a few bigger lessons:

We are all in this together

If we are all heading into pick up trying to get our kid out first and fastest, it’s only a matter of time before we are either consumed by rage and frustration because no one can ever always be the first and fastest or that something goes terribly wrong. But if we go into the pick up line with the goal of all kids and families getting in and out safely then that changes everything.

Working together means we sometimes sacrifice what is good for ourselves for the good of the group. This is true so often in life. But the secret is looking out for all the people actually makes the group work better and in the end that will actually help you. We are all irrevocably connected. 

Give grace everyday

When that mom cuts us off or that dad yells at us in line, we give them grace. Assume they are still working on the easy rules and we all have to start somewhere. Don’t yell back. Assume their day was stressful. Their kid is sick. They just got laid off. They woke up to a flooded bathroom or a fire.

Sure, they could just be a jerk, but jerks are so rare. People accidentally acting like a jerk because life is hard much more common. They probably just need a hug and understanding which when you’re a stranger looks like walking away and moving on. Chances are they’ll feel terrible when they come out of their rage. And if not, well we’ve still done our part to make the world better and that’s all we can do. 

Also, disclaimer, I am not at my best when I am running late or in a hurry or just in a frustrating situation. I may accidentally act like a jerk so sometimes we will need to give that grace to our very own selves. It happens.

Practice Kindness

Like really practice it. As a society our kindness muscles tend to be a bit flabby because we can’t exercise them if we are operating in aforementioned fight or flight. We need to be intentional here.  There’s no lion so we have the time to slow down and think this one through. 

Practicing means we chose a kind behavior and repeat it until it’s automatic. In the pick up line that mean we let someone in front of us in line. Or we leave the best parking place for someone else. Or we smile and wave to the other drivers.

In life we just take time to be aware of the needs of others around us and help to meet those needs when we can. Do this even if it makes you late or makes us crazy. No lion chasing us means that we have the time to be nice. Take a deep breath, we’ve got this.

Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated. Or we could just follow this golden rule. It really sums it all up so nicely.

In all of these lessons, we really just need to remember that each human wants the same things. In the pick up line we want to reunite with our kids and exit that parking lot before they are ready to graduate.We want to get to the next event, to the Starbucks line, back to work. We are trying to make it through.

And the kids are watching how we do this. They are taking notes. We can’t yell at the person in front of us and then expect them not to yell at their siblings. We can’t park in a No Parking Zone and then expect them to follow our rules. This is not how life works, they will do as we do. Which is one of the hardest parts of parenting…if only they would just do as we say it would be so much easier.

So take a deep breath, smile at the person who just yelled at you and move on down the line. Explain to your kids that the yeller or must be having a bad day and we should hope it gets better. Show your kids what grace and kindness in action look like in the pick up line and everywhere in life. There is never a reason not to. The world will be a better place for it.




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