Overheard In The Carpool Line

They couldn’t see me because I was on the floor of my car trying to scoop up the Goldfish that fell when I turned the baggie upside-down.  Damn, I thought the Ziploc was closed.  (It’s never ever closed.) I banged my head on the dashboard and the trunk popped open.  If I had to give this moment a cliché, I’d roll out living the dream.

image credit: Wikipedia.org

image credit: Wikipedia.org

Where did they think I was?  Did they think I abandoned my mini-van with the trunk wide open in the carpool line moments before my preschooler emerged from the building expecting to see me behind the wheel with a snack in hand?

It’s true that when I realized I could hear every word they were saying, I scooped slower so I could keep listening.  I heard one of the women saying something I was sure was about another mother, and I just had to know.  Who were they talking about? What were they saying?  In my mind, the odds of a group of women talking positively about another woman was about a bazillion to one, so yes, I scooped up artificial cheese snacks in slow motion because I wanted a slice of the gossip pie. It’s got no calories but like anything made of dark chocolate, I can’t stop until it makes me sick.

“She’s not around much because she works full-time,” I heard one of them say.  Her tone wasn’t nasty; it was explanatory, like how a teacher talks when she’s explaining something like, say, chemical warfare to eight graders.  Nerve gas attacks the respiratory system.  Like that, except I could hear her straining to fake smile through her words.  I then heard, “it’s hard on him,” and assumed they were referring to the offspring of the working full-time mother.  Then I heard one of them ask how much I was working, “because sometimes a nanny picks Sadie up.”

I felt rage shoot through my veins like I imagine heroin does.

Look, I’m all for curiosity, but it was late November, so why were they still calculating which mothers were in the carpool line and which ones were elsewhere? Hadn’t whoever was interested in hashing that out already hashed it? For God’s sakes, it was almost Thanksgiving.

I spotted a pair of errant fish way underneath my seat so I went for them.  I stretched my arm out of my shoulder socket, thinking I’d taste something like Olympic victory once I snared them in my fist.  For a few seconds, I was concentrating harder on my real life rather than eavesdropping on carpool mothers.

The children were starting to file out of the building so the mothers’ conversation hurtled towards a forced closure, like swimmers forced to get out of the pool when lightning streaks across the sky.  “We’ll catch up later,” each promised.   I popped my head up just in time to catch the eye of one of the mothers.  “Hey,” I said, holding up the bag of Goldfish as an explanation for why I had been on the floor of my car for the past four minutes.  I had no way to explain why my trunk was open.

“Hey, so good to see you,” she said, curiosity about what I’d heard lurking in her tentative smile.

“You too,” I said, popping a Goldfish in my mouth, vowing never to snack on gossip pie.  It’s not worth it.

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79 thoughts on “Overheard In The Carpool Line

    • Good question and I’m not entirely sure that was happening. It’s this weird line where I wonder if it’s possible to just chit chat with out the specter of judgment. I wonder.

  1. i like any story with gold fish, and i’m going to just keep crunching over here and not say anything because my mouth is full. except, i love the way you tell a story. sorry, did i spit on you?

  2. This is why I stay in the car in carpool line, with the windows up and dark sunglasses on. Except I don’t think most of the women at my school would even know my name to talk bad about me. Your time is better spent with the goldfish 🙂

  3. Girl, I have been there. Figuratively, that is, because I am never at dropoff or pickup, so I’m sure I’ve been discussed at some point too!

    I’m curious about Naptimewriting’s comment about your encounter being evidence of women knocking other women. From your story, the conversation sounded mainly like idle chatter, not judgment, except for the “it’s hard on him” bit. But only you know for sure, since you were there. And of course it’s never fun to overhear yourself as the topic of discussion.

    I don’t think it’s bad in and of itself to be talking about who works full-time and who doesn’t. I am keenly aware of who does and who doesn’t, but that’s because I work full-time myself and I make it a point to find out who the other working moms are. I do that because I’d like to make an effort to get to know them better, knowing that we have much in common.

    Sorry for the novel. Clearly this was a very thought provoking post for me.

    • I actually think it was idle chatter but there’s such a culture of assuming judgment that it’s so hard to piece through. One of my thoughts was that we are all so beat down in every direction that it’s criminal to even ask questions or wonder about someone’s situation.

      • Right? I think many women are defensive of their choices (whatever they are – staying home, going back to work, breastfeeding…). And that makes us hypersensitive about people’s comments. I am no exception. But it’s sad that we feel so beat down, like you said, that we get defensive. I will sometimes wonder aloud about someone’s situation and then find myself adding something like, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” for fear that I’ll be perceived as criticizing even though I am not.

      • I say that too and worry that it sounds hollow and fake and honestly some times it is. But not always. Again, I think I’ll just talk about myself and bore everyone to death. It’s safer.

        On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:12 AM, Outlaw Mama

  4. Wise. You don’t need to be in that hornet’s nest. I find the gossip distracting and makes my heart and head heavy. Fix your eyes on Sadie and that’s all that matters. I sent a text to some moms last week saying that I was going to lay low. I am on a need to know basis – – like I don’t need to know how that kid’s mama divorced her dad and is cuckoo. Shame on you! You know, I now pick up the kids right on time. I used to be early but the shit people say . . .

  5. Oh, I absolutely know they talk about me. I come home late (I’m a caterer) and sleep in the pick up line. They must gossip that I stay out late or am a bartender. Gossip. Gossip. Gossip. You know they talk, because it makes them feel like they’re so much a better job than I am.

    • Caterer sounds so fun! I bet if any of those mothers are like me, they are envious of that. And I don’t know the remedy for any of this except to stop talking myself. I try to just talk about myself, which is obnoxious but not so toxic.

      On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:08 AM, Outlaw Mama

  6. I’m grateful for my kids’ school where nearly all of us arrive having been the victims of gossip ourselves, or having watched our children suffer from it. I have yet to meet a parent who wasn’t uber protective of each other and the kids, and it makes such a difference in the level of camaraderie and trust we have.

    • I am hoping we have this too. We are at a new school and I’m not getting that vibe at all. Everyone seems more laid back and less interested (in a good way) in other people.

      On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:22 AM, Outlaw Mama

  7. I’d have taken it personally. But I tend to do that.

    I have always had the motto that I don’t care what you say about me, just do me a favor and make sure it doesn’t get back to me (or make sure I don’t hear, sheesh!). You can say all the mean crap you want as long as I don’t know about it.

    • I totally agree. ONce someone told me that someone at work said I was fake and bitchy. I objected: I am fake so no one knows I am bitchy.

      On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:39 AM, Outlaw Mama

  8. “In my mind, the odds of a group of women talking positively about another woman was about a bazillion to one” – that makes me sad. Why do we do that, and when do we learn that it’s an acceptable form of social interaction? We have precious little time on this planet to waste it by not being supportive of each other. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront of my consciousness.

    • I actually hope that’s not true, but just a statement informed by some bad experiences I have had. And to tell the truth, I’m not crazy about groups of women bashing men either. I have no idea what men talk about it, but something tells me it’s somehow different.

      On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:15 AM, Outlaw Mama

      • I agree. And I think you’re right about men not talking that way about each other. The boxing gym I go to is mostly dudes, and I never hear them talking smack to or about each other. I don’t think gossiping is a guy-thing – who knows?

      • Locker room chatter – ladies is 100xs worse than gossip. First they don’t talk about each other. They talk about US! Not about how lovely we are either, about who does what or does not etc. Then these men go home and tell their gossip loving wives these TALL tales, because a 2 inch fish is now 12 inches (if you know what I mean), now the gossip mill is roaring full steam ahead. A true gentlemen never kisses and tells.

  9. Been there too … when my son was about 8 months old, I use to take him to these mommy-me classes. All of the women stayed at home and I was the only one who would squeeze in work and meetings and phone calls in between naps and play dates. I always felt like an outsider. The stay at home moms didn’t get me and the ones who worked, didn’t understand what it was like to be home all day with a kid and try to work.

      • My world is easier now that my son is older but back then, it felt kinda lonely. Glad I didn’t hear anyone talk about me like that but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

      • Lonely is the perfect word. We just started two new schools and I am approaching it differently. I am who I am and our family is a work in progress as am I. I am leading with love and a desire to connect and not with all that insecurity. Here’s hoping.

        On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM, Outlaw Mama

      • Sorry to hear that … it does suck to be in that place. I remember reading that you were moving and wondered how things were going. Yeah give it some time and see how it all plays out.

  10. I have been on every side of this. The working mom who has a son in before and aftercare (no car pool line b/c he lived at the school), the nanny in the carpool line, and now me in the carpool line. I just play on my phone. Maybe if I were smart enough to spill goldfish I would learn some juicy gossip about myself. It would probably be: “Ooooh, she’s in Gap, not Lululemon. Can you believe it?”

  11. Oy vey. Yeah, gossip pie is not a party in your mouth, or your ears. I keep everyone guessing at school. Her dad picks her sometimes, I pick her up in the carpool lane some days, and other days I run in breathless at 5:59pm. They probably think I’m a call girl. Whatever. Great post!

  12. “It’s true that when I realized I could hear every word they were saying, I scooped slower so I could keep listening.”

    This is totally what I would do too. Women hating on other women make me absolutely crazy. How are any of us supposed to make the choices that are right for ourselves and our families if we are constantly having to endure the judgment and ridicule of the very people who should be supporting our every move?

    • I know. It’s nuts. I had a mom thing yesterday and I honestly felt so much love for all of the women I met. The difference? Me. I just refuse to be little and scared and insecure anymore, which I think makes those kind of interactions different. I am not doing anything wrong, which I believe in my bones (as far as my schedule goes) so I don’t assume anyone thinks that about me. In turn, I don’t think it very often about anyone else unless they call me sobbing saying, “I’ve done something wrong. Please help.” In that rare case, I would hope to help someone problem solve and not pile on the judgment.

  13. For the last time, ladies gotta stick together and support each other – not judge and knock each other down. When is everybody gonna get the memo? I’m sorry this happened Christie. We’re all doing what’s best for our families and ourselves and that’s as it should be. So many good lines in this; so well done. You win. You got a well written story out of their catty high school behavior. 😉

  14. That sounded judgmental….didn’t mean it that way AT ALL. I’m just agreeing with this post. I heard some gossip just yesterday about myself, and also made this new goal. And, by making it, I’ve decided that I also can’t care what others think about me unless they say it to my face.

  15. I love the way you handled this situation. Some people think they can speak ill of others so freely. When you confront someone doing this they generally have a “Oh it wasn’t meant as you heard it” attitude. Amazing how you are unable to comprehend or articulate, their middle school, mean girl slam book conversation! Yes, adult women do stick together and support each other. I wouldn’t stop doing what I am doing, because of some people who weren’t making good use of their time!

      • I know – but sometimes just a smile and wave of “hello I am here – gotcha b” works wonders. I read somewhere and wish I could quote the author – “Smiling is the Greatest act of Defiance”! I am very big on rule breaking! LOL! By the way – I am not a blogger, I just comment on others blogs. I haven’t made the plunge.

      • Ha! I just checked your blog! I support you taking the plunge. It’s a wild ride and so fun. Thanks for commenting here. I am going to smile as much as possible.

      • Yep and if someone says something I don’t like – instead of my normal “FU” I smile and say “Wow, I really appreciate your opinion, thank you”. Because opinions are like you know what’s – everyone has one. I don’t blog, because the grammar nazi’s will get their red pens. I am working on the grammar, and appreciate your support. Thank you. I really enjoy your blog.

  16. A wise lesson there at the end, and very well handled. Kudos to you.

    I’ve never been on the receiving end of such chatter (to my knowledge) but I have been on the giving end of idle gossip. It’s addictive and bonding and quite, quite wrong. Certainly a nasty little flaw I don’t want to let turn into a habit.

  17. Ugh! You have way more willpower than I not to indulge in juicy, delicious gossip pie! It may be my favorite secret snack, even though I feel sick for days after ingesting (and here I always thought I was simply lactose intolerant?!). I love the image of you standing up to be seen and casually popping a goldfish in your mouth. Brava!

  18. Ughhhh! I hate this! I give up gossip for Lent every year. It’s hard and I never make it the 40 days and I hate myself if I ever talk about someone behind their back. Hence, my circle is small and I get talked about and I’ve figured out how not to care about it. But I still can’t make it those 40 days. Totally believe in the ten second rule (or more) for any desirable floor snack!

  19. I think goldfish are actually sentient creatures, because they seem determined to escape whatever container you put them in.

    And I’d have called her out. Mostly because it would have been awkward, and I kinda like awkward.

  20. Such a good post. It reminded me of the book, “Where’d You Go Bernadette?” which I think you’d like if you haven’t read it – kind of a satire of the carpool lane culture – well that is one part of it at least. A big part of the plot is how all the “Mercedes Moms” gang up on the one eccentric mom who isn’t seen volunteering enough. It’s pretty funny. But back to you, great post. I can especially relate to the picking up a bag upside down without knowing that it is closed – I always do it, and I always wonder after, why didn’t i just pick it up from the right side to be safe? We never learn haha.

  21. Pingback: Both Sides Now | My journey to live an authentic life

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