Hookup Line. Carpool. Same Rituals, New School.

New York Times Motherlode Blog

Ann interesting article for new parents at CSH.

Photo

The "hookup" line.
The “hookup” line.Credit Mary Laura Philpott

Here in Nashville, the process known elsewhere as “car pool” — dropping off and picking up children at school — is referred to as “hookup.” So, instead of saying “the car-pool line,” folks here say, “the hookup line.” “See you at hookup,” fellow parents say. “Don’t be late for hookup,” teachers remind us.

As a new transplant to town, having just moved here over the summer with my family, I’m still thrown by the phrase. Every time I hear it, I think for a second: Hookup? My kids are in third and sixth grade: What sort of crazy swinger town is this?

Thankfully, it’s just a matter of semantics. Otherwise, car pool — sorry, hookup — works pretty much the same here as it did back in Atlanta. Pull forward; come to a complete stop; let your kids out or in; and whatever you do, don’t look at a cellphone. And that has surprised me. The sameness of things, I mean.

There is still plenty of newness to get used to, though. A hundred new names to learn. New buildings to navigate. New events that are traditions to others but totally foreign to my children. That’s tough for even the most resilient kids.

As we stood on the sidewalk of the children’s new school on new-family-orientation day, trying to get our bearings and remember which door to use, my 11-year-old son said for the first time since we moved, “I miss Atlanta.”

My 8-year-old daughter said, “I miss our old school.”

School is where a lot of life happens for kids. Seven hours a day, five days a week. Work, play, friendship, risks, heartbreaks, triumphs. This place was to be their new daytime world, and now they had to learn how it all worked. No wonder they suddenly felt nostalgic for a place where they already knew the people, the rules and the lay of the land. I felt it too, and I wasn’t even a student.

But as I sat on a folding chair and listened to the head of school speak to new parents, it struck me how familiar this experience was. Turns out, schools generally have the same messages for parents at the start of the year no matter where you are: Please follow the bus and car pool rules (hookup, I mean — I’m going to get it eventually, I swear). Please make sure your kids get a decent night’s sleep. Please fill out all the health forms and registration forms and other forms on time. Forms, forms, forms. Timeliness, timeliness, timeliness. If you can volunteer or support the annual fund, that would be really super.

Honestly, the only ones in the room who looked overwhelmed were the parents whose children were starting kindergarten — the ones who hadn’t yet been down this road or anything like it. In many ways, I had more of a clue than these people, who were stepping from the world of preschool and nap times and extra-chunky crayons to the world of big-kid school. If you count back to my first year with a kindergartner, I’m starting my seventh year of elementary school-age parenting.

That’s what the kids ended up discovering as well. During the course of each child’s classroom visit, I could see their shoulders relax, their smiles return. A classroom is a classroom. The desks may be a different shape and the chairs a different color, but they’re still for sitting down. Lockers, cubbies, whatever — you still have to keep your space neat. The teachers may be new faces, but they are all just as sweet and welcoming as any the kids have had.

There’s going to be unfamiliar stuff at some point — an adjustment period is a certainty, and I’m bracing for that — but for now, in this honeymoon period at the beginning when everything’s just basics, it’s not too wildly different from anything they’ve experienced before.

In the morning hookup line (I did it!) on their first full day, I said: “Remember, it’s not Mars. It’s just school. You know how to do school.” We did a little fist-bump before they hopped out of the car and repeated our daily mantra: Be brave. Be kind. Be wise. Same thing we’ve always said.

Mary Laura Philpott is a writer living (as of just recently) in Nashville. She is the editor of Musing for Parnassus Books, and her next book, “Penguins With People Problems”, will be published by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, next year. She will be writing about her family’s transition to new schools and a new life in Nashville in “New In Town” through September 2014.