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Schoolyard lessons in traffic and civility

January 4, 2012

Yes… today, I am angry.

This is something that’s been getting my goat for a little while.  I once thought it was just a personal thing, but I really don’t think it is any more.  I think it’s a symptom of a much, much larger problem.

I was picking my son up from school, this afternoon.  I’ve been dropping him off and picking him up from preschool on up through his current level of fifth grade.  Parking was a real problem, for a while, because a large number of parents who pick their children up from school do not believe that the laws of parking apply to them.  I’ m not sure if this is a temporally localized difficulty (“I don’t have to obey the laws of parking while I’m picking up my child from school”) or if it’s a general difficulty that these people also experience at other times and other places (“What do you mean that I can’t park perpendicular to the curb in the middle of a cul-de-sac on a high-traffic residential street?”).  I’ve seen a LOT of bad parking and bad driving, here.  There’s the constant, unending stream of slow, clumsy K-turns in the middle of a short street ending in a cul-de-sac because people don’t want to drive another sixty feet.  There’s the, again, parking perpendicular to the curb in the middle of the cul-de-sac so that it’s impossible for anyone to use it to make a u-turn, as it was intended.  There are the streams of people parking in the middle of the street, in front of the houses on that street, preventing the residents from pulling into their driveways.  There are a lot of people who drive well in this situation.  The people who do not, and they are numerous, make that street a madhouse for a good half hour around the time the kids are being brought to or let out of school.

Then there are the parents who simply stop their cars in the middle of this madhouse and have their kids get out… in the middle of the street.  Some of these kids know that they need to get to the nearest sidewalk as soon as possible, which doesn’t make letting them out in the middle of the street one bit better.  Some of these kids… and by some, I mean a lot… run across a lane of traffic to get to the school.  More, they run across a lane of traffic that is occupied by drivers who’s driving skills make them appear to be both on meth AND blindfolded.

In order to overcome the difficulty of dealing with the traffic (which often meant arriving thirty to forty-five minutes early to secure a parking place), I eventually started parking in the pubic lot attached to the nearby library and walking across the park next to the school.  This works out a lot better; it gives me a decent walk a couple of times a day, allows me to have a leisurely chat with my son about his day in a nice park, and there are relatively few other parents doing it.

I’m amazed there haven’t any serious injuries at the school as a result of the whole “dropping kids off in the middle of the d@mn street” thing.  There have been a number of traffic accidents, some resulting in substantial damage to cars, but there have been few (if any) injuries from the bad parking/driving in the six years we’ve been taking our son there.  I can’t imagine that record is going to last… every year, the quality of the driving drops.

There are rules for driving in these situations.  Some might go so far as to call them “laws.”  There are even guidelines, handed out by the school, which detail what is the proper and safe way to get children from cars to the schoolyard and back again.  There are days I want to sit next to the school with a copy of these guidelines, a tranquilizer rifle, and a tattoo gun.  I’d have to do the tattoo backwards on people’s foreheads, though, so they could read the guidelines in a mirror.  I’m not going to do that, though.

It would be against the rules.

(Pause.  Deep breath.  Take a hit off of my asthma inhaler.)

My son enters and leaves the school through one of the back entrances, off the sports field.  It’s more accessible than the front entrances, from the way we park and walk.  The school is surrounded by a chain link fence for safety and security.  There are two back entrances, both of which have similar arrangements.  I had to draw a diagram.

To enter the schoolyard, people must enter the opening in the fence, make an immediate ninety-degree turn to their left, walk down about three feet, then make a roughly one hundred and thirty-five degree turn to the left at the point where the passageway narrows.  They then walk the remaining four feet or so, through the opening into the schoolyard (which can be secured with a gate).  Reverse the process to exit.  This causes all traffic through either of the two back entrances to be single-file.  It is also meant to be variably unidirectional… people are not only moving single-file, but ideally, all in the same direction.

I suppose it’s a safety and security thing.  I, personally, can imagine a few instances where it might cause a difficulty if people could only travel through these entrances, such as an emergency and/or disaster.  That’s the arrangement we’re given, though.  Entrance and exit through the front of the school is substantially easier, just some wide gates in chain-link.

A number of parents arrive early to the school for pick-up; the gate opens about five to ten minutes before school closes, so parents can (if they choose) go to their kid’s classrooms to escort them out.  I did this myself for a few years, until Andrew was in the second grade.  Now, I wait outside the gate for him to come out.  When the school bell rings, kids and adults come wandering across the sports field to form a single file line for exit.

Then, some adult shows up late to go inside to escort their child out.  Mind you, the times that people are let in, and that school lets out, rarely changes.  You know… people can be late for all kinds of reasons.  Bad traffic.  Some  item of work that had to be finished.  Whatever… I’ve been late myself.  Traffic through the back entrance is a) single-file and b) unidirectional.  There are parents waiting outside the gate, who DID arrive on time, for their children to exit.  Ideally, a late-comer will have to wait until there is a lull in the exit line, or the majority of people have left, to get into the schoolyard.  This wouldn’t be a rant if that’s how they did it, though, now would it?

No… they cram themselves into the entrance, which is mostly occupied by elementary school children who want to get out of school.  It’s like a salmon trying to swim up a salmon-sized pipe with salmon pouring out of it.  The kids try to work their way around the adult, the adult tries to shove through the kids and everything… slows… down.   The line of people needing to get out (if there was a line to begin with at all) grows.  It’s only seven feet of grassy path, defined by chain-link and poles, but it turns into some kind of horror movie maze.

If people are lucky, someone (usually a kid) who hasn’t started through the inner gate will stop, and back up a little, and let the adult through.

So, it’s a little longer that everyone has to wait.  For most, just an inconvenience.  I’ll admit to being a little more sensitive to the situation than that.  I have three herniated discs in my spine, and there are no seats within waiting distance of that back entrance.  A few minutes of wait here and there are fine, but when this happens twice or more in a day, I’m in some considerable distress.  It takes my son long enough to work his way from a classroom at the front of the school to an exit at the back as it is.  Waiting for people who think nothing of inconveniencing everyone else isn’t high on my list of acceptable reasons to be in pain.

There’s another thing that happens, though, and it really enrages me.

Say some kid makes it outside, but there’s a problem.  They forgot a vital piece of homework.  Some other kid throws their shoe back over the fence.  For whatever reason, a kid needs to get back inside, while there are other kids pouring out.

I’m a lot more tolerant of a kid having to get back inside than I am of an adult who showed up late.  Andrew’s been that kid a couple of times, probably because I used to be that kid all the time.  That might be an emergency, or at the very least something important. So, the kid plunges back into the rush of people out.

Working around the other kids is one thing… kids move through kids a little better than an adult moves through kids.  Then, they encounter one of the adults that’s coming out.

Look… I know that adults have places to go and things to do.  I know that the adult probably doesn’t want to be in that schoolyard any more than their kid does.  I understand these things.  What I can’t understand is an adult, a parent for Pete’s sake, seeing a distressed child trying to get back into the school, and forcing themselves past that child.  If the adult has reached the choke point, there’s a chance to tell people behind them to back up a little and let the kid through.  If the adult has only just gotten through the inner gate ( I saw this happen right in front of me, today), they can certainly back up a step and let the kid in, rather than push them all the way back out.

(So Angry I Used Ranty Twice!)

Bad enough if this is how you treat another adult.  That’s being a dick, which isn’t even frowned upon in some circles.  Bad enough if this is how you treat a child when you’re out alone; don’t do that, though, or you might force some right-minded individual to risk jail time by punching you clean in the nose.  No, the worst part is that the adults at the school are acting like this in front of their own children.

(Pause again.  Think about bunnies.  Make blood pressure go down.)

You know, I was raised in a loving household, and I had a solid background in the basics.  Sesame Street.  Davey and Goliath.  Speed Racer.  I went to Sunday School (where I was frequently told I was making God cry), and I absorbed a lot of lessons from puppets and cartoons.  Some of it doesn’t make sense to this day, but some of it seems like something too important to miss.

My parents, grandparents, and other family reinforced these basics lessons.  They were all about treating people right.  It wasn’t even about being a Christian… it was about being a person.

Follow the rules; they are there for your safety.  Take turns.  Help people.  If a person needs a kindness that you can provide with a simple minute of patience, that’s a minute well-spent.  Treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself.  Am I crazy?  Are these really hard?  Shouldn’t I be teaching these to my son before I teach him “never draw to an inside straight?”

I’m deeply concerned for the state of civility in our civilization, right now.  I can see civility draining away in our popular culture, our news media, our political discourse, our philosophical musings, and right there at the back entrance of my son’s school… and it makes me want to do some very un-civil things.

Tranquilizer rifles and tattoo guns are both hard to find, however, so at least there’s that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wayne permalink
    January 4, 2012 5:32 pm

    Oh dude, I had an eye twitching just reading this…..Remind me never to go with you. Can you imagine the swearing?

  2. Jenn Signore permalink
    January 4, 2012 9:41 pm

    Scott, I am amazed at the rage that builds up inside me when I am picking up my kids at school. It’s worse at my daughter’s preschool, and the culprits are the dumbass arrogant parents at the private school next door. They take over the whole parking lot, ignoring the reserved spots for our school. And they drive like idiots in a very narrow space full of kids, too, so I completely get your reaction to the whole thing.

    And don’t get me started on the parents that drive right onto the *playground* at my son’s school to pick up their kids from basketball practice. Because nothing says “fitness” like avoiding the 500 foot walk to the curb where there is plentiful parking.

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