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We R Uber

I have my glazed doughnut, my coffee, and a few sections of the Sunday paper to keep me occupied for the next hour or so. And I see it’s starting to sleet, but as long as I keep the car idling, I’m pretty sure I won’t freeze. I’ve got the radio on. Maybe I’ll recline the seat a bit. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I’m just sitting here, waiting for a kid.

You know what I’m talking about. You probably do this all week long, too. It has become my lot in life, my cross to bear: the never-ending, behind-the-wheel runaround that makes me little more to my passengers than the back of a head with a moderately priced haircut. So I guess we all might as well say it loud and proud.

We are Uber drivers.

How did this happen, anyway? There was a time, not that many years ago, when Mom and Dad ran the show and ruled the road. Every errand, destination, or trip around town was our idea, our priority. Best of all, the kids couldn’t fight back. There they were, back in those pint-sized days, strapped into their car seats, powerless to reach the radio, touch the thermostat, open the windows, or unlock the doors.

Back then our authority was absolute. The radio was perpetually tuned to NPR. The glove box overflowed with kiddie CDs, and we all sang along to The Wiggles and the soundtrack from High School Musical. Fun times indeed.

But those days are gone. Now, as parents of kids of a certain age, we are trapped in an endless pick-up and drop-off purgatory that keeps our cars constantly on the road and perpetually low on gas.

We can’t blame the kids. Consider the principles of physics that govern modern-day childrearing. The geometric explosion of our children’s after-school activities bumps up against an opposing and immovable constant: They’re still years away from getting their drivers’ licenses. So here we are, on the road, trapped in Newton’s first law, which states that an object in motion stays in motion. I figure Newton must have had at least one kid who played travel soccer.

It would be one thing if we only had to worry about getting the kids to dance practices, play rehearsals, and the occasional birthday party. But in our family, the fetch-and-carry verges on the absurd. I once had to drive a full hour home and back again just because one child brought the wrong-colored jersey to a tournament. Then there was the time my son left his blue blazer at school. We had to race to the mall to buy a new one with only thirty minutes left before he was supposed to sing with the choir.

Add to that the invention of the smartphone, which is like having a cow bell tied around my neck. Now the kids are free to text me at oddball times and for the strangest reasons, and always with a no-nonsense telegraph operator’s run-on sentence structure and indifference to form: is there anyway you can bring me my lab notebook which is sitting by your desk with my pencil case I left my art sketchbook at home in the den on the table do you think you can get it to me at school by 11

So when I’m not ferrying actual children, I’m delivering inanimate objects – a forgotten dance bag, a preferred pair of cleats, five dollars for a pizza party, a single unopened jar of peanut butter someone needs to donate to a school charity.

It might not be so bad if the kids didn’t treat us like taxi drivers always on call. If I worked the hack line at the airport, at least I’d know I could count on getting my fair share of premium customers. But in my line of work, I just keep getting the same surly riders, over and over, who fight with each other, insist on changing the radio station, and spill Sprite all over the upholstery. Pity the poor parent whose car has no jack for a USB cable. And the meter isn’t running because there is no meter. It’s like being trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone – just one endless, unpaid fare stretching into infinity.

You might think that dropping your kid off at his or her destination would give you time to triangulate your daily duties, knock out some shopping, engage in some prudent adult time-management. But as every driving mom or dad knows, the average kid activity is too far away to make circling back home worth the trip, but too short time-wise to do anything useful.

That’s why the parking lots are full of parents like me, just sitting here in the dark with the headlights off like a police bunko squad on stakeout. Except that I’m not planning to bust up some craps game behind a suspicious storefront. And I have no partner to exchange witty banter with – unless you count that call I just got from my spouse asking me to swing by the store and pick up another half-gallon of 2 percent milk.

Instead, I will simply wait for the customary text – when r u picking me up? – followed by another that pinpoints the current vector of my daughter’s ever-changing schedule – we r gonna be done around 8 now. Then comes one intended to keep me at the curb and out of sight: just txt me when u r here please do not come in this time. Yeah, I get it. She’s with her teenage friends. But once I was the cool dad. Now I’m the weird dad? At what point did I become embarrassing?

Okay, don’t answer that. I would rather live in blissful ignorance and think only of the extra stop we now have to make – we have 0 snack food in our house – before we head for home. So let’s raise the seat, fire up the headlights, and throw this cab in gear. For I am Uber. And you might as well face it.
So r u.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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