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The Amateur Parker …

An Education in Parking

By Melissa Bean Sterzick

Just when I thought I had experienced most of what the world of parking has to offer, my daughter started kindergarten earlier this fall. In one week, we celebrated her first day of school, first soccer game and first loose tooth. The tooth has no impact on the parking forecast, but parking for school and soccer is shaping up to be quite an effort.
I had no idea what we were in for that first day of classes. We woke up early, dressed and fed the whole family, gathered the carefully packed backpack – full of lunch and a box of all the supplies California schools can no longer afford to provide – and took quite a few pictures. It was a very stressful and adorable event, a real milestone for any parent, especially when it’s your first child going to her first day of school.
We left our house, which is seven minutes from the school by car, at least 20 minutes before the opening bell and made good time. But when we reached the blocks closest to the school, we found that there was not a parking space to be had for more than a quarter of a mile.
The school is only a mile plus a few blocks from our home, so we could have walked, but it was the first day, my husband had to leave directly for work, and there is a major thoroughfare to be crossed on the way. So we drove, and because our children’s legs are short and that high-traffic street is six lanes across, we will continue to drive.
We circled, the clock ticking, thoughts of the shame of being late to the first day heavy on our minds, then finally gave up and parked in the nether reaches.
The walk took 12 minutes, at least, and when we got to the class, everybody was there, our 85-year-old teacher was doing her intro, and we were sincerely embarrassed. But that’s life and worse things happen every day. I was mostly focused on getting through it all without sobbing out loud.
Certainly, I cried, and so did our 2-year-old, when it was time to say goodbye, but I didn’t bawl or hiccup, just quietly wiped the steady trickle down my cheeks and walked away. There were parents hanging on the gates outside the playground and kindergarteners thrashing and screaming until they threw up, and that just made us feel better about the whole thing.
We might have underestimated the parking issues, we were definitely late, and we were feeling a little heartbroken, too, but our daughter was taking it all well, and none of us had misbehaved or made a terrible scene.
By the time I walked back to my car, a much longer walk than I remembered, probably because my legs just did not want to take me any farther from my little girl, we had only a couple of hours before pick-up time. My toddler and I passed the morning unproductively, feeling at loose ends and soothing our tender feelings with doughnuts and television.
Parking at pick-up was not as chaotic because the kindergarten classes were dismissed early during the first week. Still, the streets around the school were crawling with minivans and SUVs, small siblings, and school children darting every which way with their brightly colored backpacks bobbing up and down.
Now that we’ve done it for a few weeks, the whole thing is starting to be routine, and our emotions are settling. I stopped crying after the fourth drop-off, and when I leave, I no longer feel like I’ve left a body part behind in a dingo’s lair. Parking is still tricky, but several strategies have reduced its impact on our days. We started carpool with another family on our street, and that makes us feel better about driving such a short distance.
At pick-up, I arrive a little early and get a comfortable spot. Drop-off is a breeze because our school offers “valet.” You just pull into the loading zone, and a PTA volunteer opens the door and hands your child up to the entrance. I have to remember the kiss and hug before we load the car, because those PTA people don’t waste time. The kids are out of the car in seconds, and I’m waved away emphatically.
The facility has maybe 20 parking spots – all designated for teachers and staff – so it’s strictly on-street for the parents. It’s a hassle to search for parking when punctuality is so important – kindergarteners (and their teachers) don’t have much patience or understanding for tardy moms.
But I can only imagine the inconvenience to the neighbors, who, three times a day – counting drop-off, and then a staggered dismissal for kindergarteners and higher grades – are overloaded with traffic and buried by the minivans lined up on their street from end to end.
That’s not to mention the extracurricular events. So far I’ve heard not a word from any of them, and I guess they are used to the process and appreciate the home equity their proximity to the school provides. But there is a homeowner nearby known for leaving trash cans on her curb and hosing down the sidewalk and parkway in front of her house every day to block would-be school parkers. I think poorly of her for that behavior, but can understand her frustration.
I was so surprised by the parking dynamics at the school because my parents didn’t drive us. When I was in kindergarten, my older brother and sister walked me, and sometime that year we moved to the outskirts of town. That meant taking the school bus that showed up more than an hour before school, carried children and teens in all grades, and often reeked of marijuana.
If we were lucky, Dena, the bus driver, would play the radio station we liked, and we might hear the best song ever, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” (“Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!”) We were dropped off right in front of the school doors and never gave the parking lot madness another thought.
For now, I’m glad my daughter is riding to school safely strapped into her booster seat in the back of my car. I’m not ready for her to experience hard rock and soft drugs just yet. I am willing to brave any kind of parking issue to keep her little just a little longer.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s amateur parker and proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com


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