Chicken Soup for the Goddamn Carpool

Illustration by Cece Bell (via
Full disclosure: my soul does not want chicken soup. My soul wants some time by the lake, listening to the loons; it wants to sit and watch the stars swing across the night sky. And maybe a tuna melt, though since it’s 5:40 pm, that might not be my soul talking. (illustration by Cece Bell)

To be honest, I’ve never read a chicken soup book; I can’t get past the cloying font on the covers. But I could see how a volume dedicated to the carpool driver might be useful. Gratitude is definitely not the focus of my consciousness while driving a carful of kids from here to eternity.

It’s not usually the kids that give me an aneurysm, though. The main problem with the carpool is the driving.

And the traffic.

And the idiots.

It’s the construction detours and backups.

It’s the sitting, the endless sitting.

It’s the feeling that my life is passing me by while I lurch from red light to red light.

It’s the premonition that if and when I finally arrive, a posse of hormonally-agitated tweens will roll their eyes and say welcoming things such as, “what took you so long?”

It’s the fact that, after ninety minutes in my gas-guzzling butt-breaker, I am unable to exit the vehicle without hoisting myself up with the car door. Apparently I have developed some sort of Saturday night palsy of the left hip. No doubt AARP is lurking in the shadows, waiting to enroll an early-adopter.

And…did I mention the sitting?

I am thankful that the carpool exists, of course. Otherwise I would be doing three times the driving. In fact, since it’s physically impossible to be two places at one time, one or both of my kids would be standing around unchaperoned on a curb somewhere. I am therefore forever indebted to those lovely parents who have teamed with me.

A carpool is a beautiful and delicate balance, thrown easily by one member making a team, or being cast in a play, or needing a retainer, or feverish. Do not sit next to me or my kids if you have a cold. You could screw up the logistics of my parenting life for the next two weeks, and my carpool buddies wouldn’t thank you, either.

I do try to combat my bad-itude. I bring snacks, a special ergonomic back pillow, and loud music of the passengers’ choosing. I’ve developed an audiobook habit for the solo runs, which helps mask the fact that I waste a shocking proportion of my waking hours behind the wheel–only to arrive exactly where I began.

Despite all of that…I f#%@ing hate it. I do.

I’m not alone, either. Carpool driving is on the shit list of parents everywhere, right next to stomach viruses, fundraising, and lunchroom duty. We are ripe for some spiritual guidance. So where is our chicken soup book?

There are 250 soup books. No lie. They have editions specifically targeting:

  • dieters
  • golfers
  • parents of twins
  • hockey lovers, and
  • country music listeners.


There are fourteen different soup books about the wisdom we can gain from our furry friends. There is even one volume mysteriously entitled, “O, Canada.”

Surely the size and desperation of the group keening for some carpool inspiration warrants the 251st book.

Bring on the soup, people.


Today’s Plan: Free-falling into my Box of Grief


Forty-five days ago my father died.

Shortly thereafter, the following advice magically appeared in my inbox: “Free-fall into what’s happening.”

I didn’t want to do that.

I’ve been afraid to think or digest or write or talk or feel. Luckily, I haven’t had time to do so.

I could fill today, too–with my stupid, endless lists and obligations–but for once, I put wallow on the list.

I’ve tucked my box of grief into a corner and left it to fester, to rot, to multiply and mutate. it’s time to bring it out in the daylight and examine its contents.

My plan:

  • Write.
  • Drink lots of decaf and eat something lovely and chocolate.
  • Listen to beautiful, sad music.
  • Make something I like.
  • Go for a walk. Sit in a tree.
  • Watch a Very Sad Movie. Bring lots of tissues.
  • See what happens.

But first, let me move the car. Parking tickets are not therapeutic.



I had one job:

Bring the bag.

I was asked twice.

Of course, I said.

No problem, I said.

I thought a lot about the bag.

I determined a suitable size and shape.

I planned its contents.

I discussed possibilities.

I made lists.

Piece of cake.

I was reminded once more, which was a little annoying.

Even so, I wrote it on my hand.

I laid everything on the bedroom floor, then arranged it neatly in the bag.

Now what?

I added a few items.

I put the bag in a prominent place.

I put a note on my bedside table, and set a reminder on my phone.

I passed the bag six or seven times this morning…

Guess what?

Elegy for a Tree

@2012 Beret Olsen
@2012 Beret Olsen

I moved to New York when I graduated from college, and was immediately befriended by someone desperate to convert me. The odd thing was, I enjoyed her company.

I loved going on outings with her, even when she brought her posse of actual converts. We went ice skating; we went to the movies; we discussed being first-year teachers. She had many wise words to share.

She told me that the secret to overall mental health was as follows:

1) regular exercise

2) a relationship with nature

3) a relationship with the spiritual

And, despite her personal beliefs, she left number three for me to define for myself.

Since then, I have moved to the West Coast, but her words still echo in my ears. I was therefore pleased to find my version of a mental health homerun on Mount Davidson. Whenever possible, I would huff to the top and visit what I began to call my tree.

My tree had been dead for a long time, and that made it all the more striking.

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen

Under its branches, my perspective would suddenly change, both literally and figuratively. It was the place to go whenever tired, or frustrated, or stuck, or giddy, or thoughtful, or restless.

It was not uncommon for me to visit that tree two or three times a week, regardless of wind and weather. I would even wander up in the pouring rain, rubber boots sucking at the mud, dragging me into it. On those days, even the dogwalkers left me alone with my tree.

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen

Though a 103-foot cross loomed behind at the very tip top of the mount, my sanctuary stood at the tree, and I loved it there.

So did a particular red-tailed hawk, often spotted clutching a top branch, and eyeing me with the same cool gaze he turned to the rest of the world.

Then…a month or two ago, we had a windstorm that ripped my beloved tree off its feet.

I didn’t know until I reached the top and saw it lying on its side, and I was completely unprepared for the sorrow I felt over a piece of vegetation.

The hawk has moved on, but the tree is still there, lying listless on a dusty patch.

It isn’t the same up there at all.