Aah! Back to school. Images of rosy-cheeked children bursting with enthusiasm, freshly minted notebooks and pencils, smiling mothers holding lunches packed with homemade specialties…

No wait; that was a novel I was reading!

Back to school is filled with moments of excitement and moments of dread – for both parents and children.

There is the thrill of seeing your friends again – and the pain of discovering that some of them have been switched to another class.

There is the excitement of learning subjects – and the distress of not getting the teacher you wanted. There is homework and responsibility and that ravishing after-school hunger.

Parents have equally mixed emotions and experiences. It is moving to watch your child progress through the educational hierarchy. And that is concurrent with anxiety and concern about their social and academic competence. Will they make friends? (Most probably yes). Will they fight with their friends? (Most probably yes). Will they remember to do their homework? (Sometimes) Will they do well on the test? (They would have but the teacher put in questions that they never studied!)

And there are new pressures – early rising and the rush to get ready, lunches (worthy of a loud groan and an article of their own), nights to devoted to homework in subjects we thought we’d long left behind, and, for those of us who don’t live within walking distance of the school and whose state doesn’t have the funds for buses, there’s carpool.

I see some of you quaking in fear and acknowledgment.

Carpool is, of course, the most efficient way to transport children back and forth to school. It saves everyone time and both the children and adults may even make new friends in the process.

But, unfortunately, the opposite is also true and it isn’t always friendships that result!

Carpool poses two inherent challenges – other people’s children and other people themselves!

To begin with, not everyone operates with the same time sensibilities. For a child that moves slowly, the early honking of the horn may provoke anxiety, along with the risk of arriving at school without a crucial piece of homework or clothing. For the family that errs on the side of strict punctuality, waiting for the more laidback carpool driver to arrive may be extremely frustrating and aggravate concerns (rational or otherwise) about late notes and other assorted penalties.

Additionally, not everyone comes straight home, or directly to the car. Some kids linger, chatting with their friends, as you sit drumming your fingers on the steering wheel and grumbling about lax parenting. Some drivers (most likely the ones with the aforementioned lingering kids) stop and do errands on the way home as you rush back and forth to the window worrying about your child’s late arrival and anticipating their black mood.

That’s just for starters! The many challenges in the carpool situation range from the trivial – jealousy of what the other family is having for dinner – to the more serious – have you ever driven home a car filled with sweaty, tired adolescent boys? In the winter when you can’t open the windows? I’ll say no more.

We want to be there for our friends and neighbors. But when does it cross a line?

But for me the most frustrating piece of all is something alluded to in a recent Wall Street Journal piece. The author, Jeffrey Zaslow, interviewed many parents who were unemployed, worked from home or were stay-at-home parents. Most of them were kind-hearted people who were happy to help out their neighbors whose jobs took them away from home. They didn’t mind being asked to drive the odd extra carpool and to do some babysitting in an unusual emergency situation. But they began to feel taken advantage of. They began to feel the assumption was that if you’re home, you’re available. Their time and occupations seemed to have no value. This puts many of us in a real dilemma. We are a people of chesed, doing kindness. We want to help out. We want to be there for our friends, our neighbors, our community. But when does it cross a line? When is not a special favor but just an assumption?

Why are there some parents who can never drive – not to school, not after school to work on a special project, not for school programs or school trips – because they are too busy “working”? And why do they expect (frequently without even asking) that the other parents will pick up the slack?

I try to be a mensch (maybe you think I don’t sound like it!) I certainly take other children that need rides even if they have uncooperative parents because why should their kids suffer? But I’m confused that they don’t acknowledge their own responsibility. I’m puzzled by their lack of respect for other people’s time? I wonder why it never occurs to them to respond with a simple “Thank you”.

If you don’t drive carpool, you probably think I’m a grumpy curmudgeon. But if you do, you’re shaking head knowingly – and thinking of that one family that never takes their turn.

It bothers me that when I send my older daughter to pick up one of her siblings from a school event, half the neighborhood piles into the car even none of them thought to ask – or offer.

Naturally I will keep driving carpool – not just for school but so my children can be full participants in extracurricular activities or just spend time with their friends. But I would certainly appreciate it if some other parents stepped up to the plate.

I’m working on loving my fellow Jew. I admit I need to work harder. Maybe other parents could help me by not constantly putting my resolve to the test!