The 7 Devastating Stages of School Pickup

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Stage 1: Naive Optimism

I hop in the car for school pickup after a long day of work and even some house-tidying. I’m feeling accomplished. I even managed to exercise and to throw in a load of laundry today, which, fine, is still sitting in the washer, soaking wet and probably smelling not-so-clean anymore, but the effort was there. The sun kisses my cheeks as I drive to my son’s preschool and I arm-dance out the window to Sweet But Psycho. What can I say, I’ve missed my sweet cherubs and I’m excited to see them!

Stage 2: Surprise

When I walk into the preschool classroom to collect my four-year-old he looks at me with huge, excited eyes, like I’m Captain Marvel. My heart soars. I crouch down to envelop him and he flings his body at me, knocking me onto the floor. “That’s okay!” I say, and laugh awkwardly, while a room full of four- and five-year-olds breaks out into hysterical laughter. “Come on, bud!” I say as I brush myself off and take his hand. He grudgingly grabs on, I wave goodbye to his teachers and we’re off!

Glad to see you, too, bud.

Stage 3: Denial

As we approach the car, my son is trying hard to run away from me. He wants to play on the playground for a bit, but it’s time to pick his sister up. I negotiate with snacks and by telling him I’ll let him do the buckle. “But the buckle! You’re so good at it!” I say, waving goldfish to and fro like glow sticks at a rave. He flings his backpack across the parking lot and it lands under a nearby car. No trouble, I’ll just scurry under there and get it. After I scrape up both my knees crawling under a vehicle, I pick up the kid as gently as I can, stuff him into the seat, and do the buckle myself. He cries like I’ve just ruined his life. I take a deep cleansing breath, drop a bag of goldfish on his lap and retreat to the front seat. The crunching keeps him quiet. This is good enough for me. No harm no foul.

Stage 4: Questioning

I realize I’m driving just a little faster than I should be three seconds too late, just as I zip by the speed camera. “DAMMIT!” I mutter. “Haha! DAMMIT!” my son squeals, delighted. I don’t respond, I’m just happy he’s not crying. “Mom. MOM. How big is your neck?” he wants to know. “Mom. Can birds talk to dogs? Mom. MOM.” My shoulders are creeping up to my ears. “Eat your snack!” I chirp, a little too yelly. But we’re okay. We’re still okay. Are we okay?

Stage 5: Begging

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When my daughter slides into the car I’m thrilled. Big sister is here! Hooray! Maybe they can talk to each other now while I zone out and listen to some music. “Hi, honey!” I say, to which she replies with her own line of questioning. ”Can we get Sno Balls? When can we see End Game again? What’s for dinner? Ugh, didn’t I tell you I’m a full vegetarian now?” I pretend this is background chatter happening on a television and not in my car, but it doesn’t matter because soon someone has breathed in someone’s direction or touched someone’s leg. “SHE HIT MEEEEE!” my son shrieks and a full-on battle wages behind me. I implore them to chill using my standard tactic, empty threats. “You won’t be watching Netflix until Friday now. Do you hear me? FRIDAY.” I sound ridiculous and everyone knows it.

Stage 6: Silent (road) rage

There must be an accident because this ride that should be no longer than 20 minutes has just come to a screeching halt. The sun is pouring through the windows and onto my son’s hot angry face. “I’M BURNING UP!!!” he yells. “This is the worst day,” my daughter announces. Please let the traffic move. I say silent prayers and practice yogic breaths.

Stage 7: Acceptance/Defeat

I pull up in front of our house, put the car into park and announce, “THANK GOD!” like I just emerged from a high speed chase and got off Scot-free. As the kids get out, I refuse to look them in the eye. The backseat is trashed, goldfish smashed all over the upholstery. “Please bring your stuff in!” I say while fake-smiling so big I worry I might be scaring them. I let us into the house and collapse onto the couch with the bag of goldfish in my lap. It’s 4:30pm and I’m thinking about cracking a beer. Instead I head out onto the porch for 25 minutes of angst-yoga while half-listening as all the other neighborhood mothers roll in with their kids. I hear a backpack smack the pavement when I’m in downward dog. In warrior two, I catch a glimpse of a sibling hair-pull. In savasana, I hear my neighbor two doors down mutter, “Jesus Christ, nothing’s ever enough!” By the time I finish up my sweary yoga, I think I feel a little bit calmer — and a little less alone.

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Sarah is a parenting and entertainment editor at and a mother of two based in Baltimore, Maryland. As a freelance writer, she's contributed to Vice, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, multiple anthologies, and more. She's working on a book about motherhood, marriage, mental health and more. Keep up with her work on Facebook.