Carpool Duties, Evenly Distributed In the United States, taking a turn at driving in the carpool is almost an inevitability of suburban parenthood. Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster lives outside of Boston. She certainly isn't exempt from driving duty -- and she wouldn't want to be. She says that driving the carpool gives her a window into her kids' lives.
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Carpool Duties, Evenly Distributed

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Carpool Duties, Evenly Distributed

Carpool Duties, Evenly Distributed

Carpool Duties, Evenly Distributed

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In the United States, taking a turn at driving in the carpool is almost an inevitability of suburban parenthood. Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster lives outside of Boston. She certainly isn't exempt from driving duty — and she wouldn't want to be. She says that driving the carpool gives her a window into her kids' lives.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In the U.S., driving car pools is almost an inevitability of suburban parenthood. Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster lives outside of Boston, and she certainly isn't exempt from driving duty. She wouldn't want to be.

Ms. ANA HEBRA FLASTER (Commentator): One Thursday I counted, through gritted teeth, 11 embarkations and disembarkations while driving my carpools. School drop-offs, pickups, dance class, play practice, guitar and something else that I can't remember right now. Stressful? Yes, but here's what I get out of it, a peek inside my children's world.

But to get there, I have to disappear. Carpool duty offers the perfect camouflage. If I'm lucky, I'll slip in silently, without anyone noticing. Four or five kids in a van jabber and reveal. They free associate kid style, and you'll see what made it to their radar, what it meant to them, maybe even how it smelled.

Recently, the kids talked about how a first-grader got sick in the hall, just after the hard-nosed nurse shooed him out of her office. I saw the colors, smelled the smells, heard the custodian groan. There's one quiet kid who always sits in the back seat. He knows all the words to the latest rap song, except he whispers them.

Meanwhile, I can always count on the fledgling comedian to remind everyone how chapped the substitute teacher's lips were. In a flash, he moves on to the color commentary about the principle, the kid's good. A while back the kids talked about purported swear words they'd seen on the bathroom walls. It was the H word, one boy said.

Some of the kids gasped. Some quietly considered the implications or wondered how the thing was spelled. Then others offered up their findings, the S word, the G word. Wait, one girl said, what's the G word? No one knew. The encoded debate continued until we reached Ryan's house. See, I don't think the governor put the G word on the swear list yet, he said, clutching his backpack at the end of his driveway, and he's the only one who can say what is a swear.

There was solemn agreement all around, and the kids moved on to other mysteries. With middle school girls, you can't just listen. You have to look in the rearview mirror. Only there can you get a sense of the nonverbal world these little ones must navigate. The sweet hellos won't match the eye-rolls and killer stares you'll see in that mirror.

It's tricky to keep one eye on the road and one on the preteens, but a trip back to seventh grade H word can be interesting, especially when you get back.

Tonight, I'm going to the next town over to pick up four kids after play practice, and then zooming back to pick up two more when dance gets out. For some, this may seem a lowly, nanny-worthy assignment. For me, it's a portal into my kids' lives. Bring it on.

BLOCK: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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