Ministry of Rides and Snacks

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It is time for girls soccer at my daughter’s school, which means many things — smelly socks, mad scrambles for hair ties, more dinners at Subway than I can stand. Did I mention the unholy stench of the feet? But the thing any middle school sports season always means for me is heavy use of the Ministry of Rides and Snacks.

I haven’t written about this before, because it smacks a little too much of, “I am awesome!” for my tastes, but I was telling some friends about it, and they insisted. (So if you think I’m being too self-congratulatory, let me know, and I’ll tell you who to blame.)

Here’s the situation. At my kids’ elementary and middle school, over 80% of the students qualify for free or reduced hot lunch; many also get free breakfast and a free bag lunch from a local organization. There are kids there from over 50 countries, and when I say “from” I mean actually from; there are recent immigrants who don’t speak much English and children whose families came over when they were very young, so the kids’ English is good, but the parents, not so much.

It’s always easy to find my kids in a school crowd; all I have to do is look for the blonde heads. But there aren’t many stay-at-home parents to come and volunteer in the school. There aren’t many families who have two vehicles, or who can take time off work to watch their children play a sport.

And kids love to play sports. Whether it’s for the love of a particular game or a chance to hang out with their friends or an opportunity to shine at something you’re good at, there is no shortage of kids who want to participate. There is, however, a shortage of rides.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, or at least a freelance-at-home mom for most of my years at the school, so I’ve done a lot of volunteering. From class parties and field trips to my regular gig in the library to guest editor stints for a couple of classrooms, I am a regular face at the school. And then my kids entered middle school and sports eligibility.

boys soccer 2012
boys soccer 2012

The year my son played soccer, two boys, both recent immigrants from Africa (different parts), one of whom spoke almost no English, needed rides. One lived near us, so we drove him home after practices and to and from games. The other became a regular rider on game days. Soon, the van was full of kids who needed rides.

girls volleyball 2013
girls volleyball 2013

I could’ve grumbled. But I chose to think of it as a way to be of service to these kids who otherwise couldn’t participate, and to their parents. Of course, I couldn’t let kids play hungry or thirsty, so I bought extra snacks and cases of water, and made sure they had something in their stomachs before game time. And, often, after.

Hence, the Ministry of Rides and Snacks.

You may be unsurprised to learn that the kids love riding in my van. There are benefits for me. The kids kind of forget that I’m there, and I get a great window into how my kids are with their friends, and what the school scuttlebutt is. I learn new slang (that my daughter forbids me to use). The girls give me hugs when they see me at school.

I won’t lie; it’s exhausting.

It can add close to an hour after the game to bring everyone home. But I love this school and I love these kids. It’s so thrilling to see a Muslim girl wearing a head scarf charge up the basketball court. Or to hear dads yell soccer instructions in four different languages. The variety of kids we know from all over the world and from different backgrounds here in our same city is just … beautiful. I will miss that gorgeous diversity when my daughter graduates in June.

But, for now, I will drive. I will buy way too many bags of Cheez-Its and boxes of granola bars. And probably Krispy Kreme for the last game. And love every minute of it.

So let me encourage you: if there is something you do that you feel a little grumbly about it, think of it as a ministry. Give it a fun name. It might help you feel differently about it. (Sadly, this doesn’t seem to apply to the doing of laundry or dishes.)

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