The first time I drove a car by myself, fresh new license tucked in my wallet and 16-year-old hands carefully placed at 10 and 2, I couldn’t stop laughing. I was driving through our neighborhood, grinning and laughing like an idiot, feeling the freedom course through my veins. I could go anywhere.
I think I went to the drugstore for poster board for a school project or something equally mundane, but I felt that surely someone would stop me, a mere child, from gallivanting around town unsupervised.
Twenty-five years later, the bloom is officially off the rose. I mean, I’m grateful for a working vehicle, but when I slide behind the wheel, I feel a bit trapped. Some days I spend more hours driving my kids around town than sleeping, and I’m surprised I haven’t gouged tracks in the stretch of highway near our house. Back and forth, up and down, all day, every day. Seatbelts on, seatbelts off, cupholders always at full capacity with water bottles and coffee cups. I’m a hostage in my own minivan.
They don’t tell you when you have kids how you’ll become a professional baby driver. I guess not professional because momma don’t get paid jack, but during the middle school and early high school years, when your kids hit peak activity level but before they get their licenses, you’ll spend roughly one billion hours on the road.
Most weeks I have to make a flow chart to figure out how to get everyone where they need to go, coordinate with other carpool parents, and account for any overlap. There are three of them, one of me, and too many activities to count. When they were little I said we’d only do one activity per kid, but the activities must be mating in a closet somewhere and multiplying like bunnies. Bunnies with shin guards and Speedos. And in addition to the things we’ve committed to they also come at you with superfluous things like friendships. Dang it, why did we decide they needed socialization?
You’ll find yourself using your kid as a mediator to negotiate with other kids’ parents. “Text Christa that I can take you guys but see if her mom can pick you guys up.” You shove the kids in the van at 6am on a Saturday for a sportsball tournament two hours away, and you’re still shuttling at 11pm picking them up from a party at so-and-so’s house with the finished basement and heated pool. When this is all over you should apply to drive for Uber, because it’s probably better hours.
You start agreeing to study groups and parties based on where the other kids live. “What neighborhood is she in? Seriously? That’s across town. Your other friend lives down the street. Go study with her. I realize that girl deals drugs and worships Satan, but she’s in our neighborhood so she’s such a convenient friend.”
This month my oldest gets her driver’s permit. One day soon, she’ll pull out of our driveway, grinning and laughing, veins filled with freedom, just like me. Weird. I’ve shifted from driving babies to my babies driving.
Our time of me shuttling her is coming to a close, and I’m both relieved and a little melancholy about it. On one hand, I can’t wait to load her up with siblings, make her cart people around to their various practices and appointments, and get herself where she needs to go. But on the other hand, she’ll get herself where she needs to go. She won’t need me anymore, at least for transportation. It’s the beginning of the end of our nonstop togetherness. And the thing is, I like her ever so much and will miss our long talks. Car talks with a captive audience are great. I do all my best lecturing and advising in the car. But it’s almost over. For now.
Last week a shiny silver car with pristine leather seats and nary a cleat or Cheerio pulled into my driveway to whisk me away for lunch. This was a grownup’s car. A car unblemished by smelly kids and too many farts. The driver was my mom, and I tripped happily down the driveway and slid into the passenger’s side. I breathed in the new car smell and fastened the seatbelt. After 25 years of driving myself, I was thrilled to let Mom drive me once again.
Photo by Lottie Caiella