The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 13, 2004


The "Drivin' to The High School (Again)" Blues

[Note: In our January 30 edition, Mosquito reporter Darlene D'Amour addressed the sometimes overwhelming smorgasbord of activities our children sample in their younger years. By high school, the good news is that most students have zeroed in on their favorite activities. The bad news is that many parents and children in Carlisle now face longer car rides to and from these activities.]

CASUALTY OF THE COMMUTE. To ease parental driving duties, many teens drive to CCHS activities, a solution with hazards, as Nikki Armistead discovered on an icy Carlisle road. (Photo by Cal Armistead)
The "Drivin' to the High School (Again) Blues" is not a tune you hear very often from parents in Carlisle. After all, we New Englanders come from hardy stock. We don't complain; we take things in stride. As Carlisleans, we are particularly loathe to complain about the distances we have to drive, because most of us have chosen to live in this beautiful town precisely because it is removed from busier towns and cities. Therefore, I present this not as a complaint, but as a statement of fact and an interesting point of discussion: When you have children at Concord-Carlisle High School, it is astounding (and occasionally disheartening) to realize how much of your day can be spent in the car.

I have two daughters at CCHS — one a freshman who plays sports, the other a senior involved in the performing arts — and on particularly busy days, I have found myself spending three hours in the car. (My commute to the high school takes approximately 20 minutes each way from our home in northern Carlisle.) And this is not an unusual occurrence. One Carlisle mother I spoke to recently (who is thrilled that her boys are now out of high school) calculated that she commonly spent about 23 hours a week ferrying her children to their many activities, easily the duration of a typical part-time job.

"The distance bothered me at first, but we chose to live here in Carlisle for a reason, so I deal with it," says Nancy Anderson, mother of three daughters — one a freshman in college, one a senior at CCHS, and the youngest a freshman. The familiar drive to CCHS takes precisely 13 minutes from their home on East Riding Drive, she says, if there's no traffic.

So if long periods of driving are a fact of life for parents in Carlisle, how do we cope? One of the best ways to cut down on individual drive time (to say nothing of car pollution) is to organize carpools. "This is where your friends really come in," says Ellen Davin, whose oldest child is a freshman this year. "It helps that Carlisle is a small town and everybody knows each other. We're all willing to pitch in."

The high school also tries to do its part by offering a late bus to Carlisle. Students buy a ticket earlier in the day, then catch the bus at 5 p.m. Although this is helpful, the late bus also has its drawbacks. Not all activities end by 5 p.m.; the bus ride (covering all of Carlisle) is long, and because it doesn't always provide door-to-door service, can mean children walk part of the way home in the dark. Many kids (including mine) deliberately avoid the late bus for these reasons.

Another way to deal with the driving dilemma is to hire another driver. For one Carlisle family of five (two children in high school, one at the Carlisle School), in which both parents work fulltime, an additional driver has become a necessity. Their nanny is available from 2 to 6 p.m., and because the children have such varying activities, "often the three of us [adults] are each picking up one of the three kids," says their mother (who preferred that her name be withheld).

One of the most popular ways for weary Carlisle parents to respond to the driving-to-the-high-school blues is to furnish newly-licensed offspring with cars. Many of us who vowed we would never do such a thing now view it as a form of self-defense.

"Talking to other parents, my husband used to say we'd never get our kids a car. They'd just laugh at us," says Anderson. Sure enough, the Andersons provided their driving-aged daughters with a "third family car," and "it makes life so much easier," she admits. But even as it removes time constraints, having a teenager on the roads provides its own concerns. "I worry every time they go out," Anderson says.

I agree. We also have provided a car for our 17-year-old daughter, and have dealt with the trade-offs of car-trouble rescues and a recent fender bender on an icy road. Even so, it is a good, if imperfect solution for Carlisle families who feel their teens can handle the responsibility.

Driving to the high school may occasionally be cause to sing the blues, but there is a silver lining as well. With your child unavoidably trapped in the car with you, conversations happen. It is often, in fact, a welcome bonding time. Could this be viewed as yet another benefit of living in Carlisle, instead of a drawback? The next time I face that 40-minute round trip — for the third time in one day — I'll do my best to conjure this positive outlook.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito