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The Schlep (AKA oh $h!* who's picking up the kids today??)

Starting next week we’re making a BIG change in our family. We’re moving my littlest one (A) to his brother’s school, starting on Monday.

As my kids are 4-years apart, there hasn’t been much overlap in their schooling. When A was born we had one glorious year where he and L (my older son) attended the same preschool/daycare. Same Preschool = one drop-off and one pick-up per day. Average time spent schlepping = 30 minutes per day.

Then, that year ended, and my oldest son started Kindergarten at our neighborhood elementary school. Thankfully the neighborhood elementary school was walking distance, so in the morning, one parent would walk L to school, while the other parent drove A to his daycare. In the evening, the reverse. Even though the daycare was only 2 miles away and the after school program was walking distance from our house, it would take one parent 30-45 minutes to get both kids; or one of us would get L while the other would get A.

(I also had a nanny who could pick up the kids on Tuesdays & Thursdays; this meant husband and I only picked up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.)

The pickup system ran like a well-oiled machine until…. The pandemic. Then we had both kids at home for a bit. Pro: no drop offs or pick ups. Con: kids were home all day which meant it was challenging for us to get work done.

By July of 2020, it was time for a change. I sent L to the only camp that was open last summer; and sent A to a little home-based daycare, about 5 miles from our house. We were back to two drop offs in the mornings (and vice versa for pick ups), except school/daycare were in opposite directions. Average time spent schlepping = 1 hour 20 minutes per day.

Then L was home schooled, so one drop-off and one pickup for A; then L started at a private school, and we were back to 2 drop offs and 2 pickups again.

These are not things that anyone tells you when you’re pregnant, but “The Schlep” of your children is REAL and it’s a big logistics puzzle, if you have more than one kid. Who can drop off the kids? Generally it’s the parent without the early morning meetings. Who can pick up the kids? Generally it’s the parent who can either (1) leave work at the same time each day, or (2) the parent who’s not cooking dinner. In our case, since I'm usually the one cooking dinner, my husband did the bulk of the pickups.

I think most people don’t think about “the schlep” when they think “let's have a baby!” But when mom goes back to work….. The baby has to go somewhere. Some folks hire a nanny and that’s certainly easier logically, but once you send your kids to daycare/preschool, then someone has to pick up and/or drop-off the kids, and THAT TAKES TIME.

So, some ideas/tips/things to think about when you're deciding on childcare options and how much time you’re likely to spend driving/biking/walking your children:

  • How far is childcare facility/school from your home? I knew folks who drove 1 hour+ each day to bring their kids to daycare - imagine adding that time to your commute, everyday, for the next 4-5 years. What time would you have to get up in the morning in order to to get your kids fed, dressed, out the door, drive an hour+, then get to work by 9:00 am?

  • Realistically, WHO is going to be doing the schlep? It would be good to have a conversation with your partner about working hours, and who has the flexibility to do pickups and drop offs, or maybe take turns. Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to set up a general routine: for example: dad drops off; mom picks up 5 days a week; or dad drops off M/W/F, mom drops-off Tuesday/Thursday.

  • And if you’re both picking up kids, who’s cooking/ordering dinner? Even if you’re ordering a food delivery service, someone still needs to be home to warm up the food.

  • Will one parent do a lot of business travel? What does that mean for the parent who doesn’t travel? Does s/he pick up both kids AND cook dinner? Or what are the other options?

  • If both parents work inflexible schedules (for example, doctors who go on-call), who else can drop off or pick up your kids?

  • Can you use some outside help? Maybe a neighbor, carpool buddy, or a nanny?

    • If you know other parents with kids at the same school, maybe you can take turns doing drop offs and pickups? This requires some planning and a lot of communication, but, if it works, it'll save you (and the other parents) a bunch of time in the mornings and evenings

    • As I mentioned, we had a “pick up nanny” on Tuesdays & Thursdays for about 4+ years. It’s not everyday, but on the days she picked up the kids, it freed one or both of us to do something else, and that was really valuable for us

  • Or, for parents who’ve signed up their kids for after-school activities - who’s doing the driving back & forth?

The Schlep is real and it’s a real time sink! I don’t think there’s one perfect solution for every family, but it’s important to have this conversation and figure it out in advance so it’s not a daily puzzle that you have to solve.

Whatever YOUR puzzle is, maybe we could help? Share your schlepping story in the comments.

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