Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Driving Around the World

As I was driving my son home from one of his many after-school activities, he asked if the car had yet gone a million miles. He was curious what the odometer would do when the car reached that milestone. I had to smile because this week it does feel like I’ve driven a million miles in that car. I think there have been several days when I’ve spent more of my waking hours behind the wheel than not.

I told my son that our car has driven 121,000 miles but even though it is a reliable Honda, it is unlikely to go a million miles. 121,000 miles still impressed him. He said, “That means if you hadn’t turned the wheel you would have circled the globe 7 times!” We didn’t talk about the difficulty of driving over oceans, we just marveled at the distance covered. I thought about this more and taking in to account the fact that my husband does most of the driving on long trips, I still have probably personally circled the globe 4 times, more or less, in the past 8 years of owning this car. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

As a mom, hours and hours are spent behind the wheel. For me, most of those hours are whiled away within the 8 mile radius of our town. Most days I just wander in circles from school to studio to field to store to office to houses. What if I didn’t turn the wheel? Something to think about.

When the kids were young, the hours behind the wheel were pretty tortuous. The fighting, the screaming, the crying, the incessant kid music. Back then I didn’t have a GPS and we were new to the area, so it was stressful just finding my way around the winding roads of PA where the state must consider it a weakness to post road signs.

My kids begged for a car with a TV like so many of their friends. Being an anti-TV parent, it was never a consideration, but I did find myself distracted at time watching The Incredibles playing on the monitor in the van in front of us. For long trips we “borrowed” a small DVD player and my husband built a stand for it between the two front seats. We were rewarded with several hours of peace until it was time to negotiate the next movie and then the screaming began. The “borrowed” DVD player actually belongs to us and stays hidden in a closet until the next big trip. After being forced to listen to A Bug’s Life repeatedly (we have 3 kids, but the DVD player has only 2 headphone jacks, so we play the DVD through the car’s stereo system), I’m not the least bit tempted to install it permanently.

The interior of my car is a wasteland. There’s no other word for it. There is trash, food remnants, dirty soccer cleats, smelly basketball socks, dried out silly putty (just so you know – silly putty does not come out of carpets, no matter what they say on the internet), plus the crumbs of a million snacks and the tops to half the water bottles ever consumed. Yes, I do clean it out. I clean it out every time I stop to put in gas, but one woman with only 2 minutes a week cannot keep up with three kids who like their sty the way it is.

I have friends whose cars are immaculate. I can only imagine that they pay someone to clean it or they don’t sleep more than 3 hours a night. It’s that or they don’t have kids. My husband shakes his head at the mess in my car. His car is spotless. But then again, he is only driving his neat, tidy self to work and back everyday. He is not racing helter-skelter all over town trying to get three kids to three different places at the same time while feeding them a healthy dinner.

I’d like to try the experiment they did back in high school where you had to carry an egg around with you for a week and not break it or leave it alone. The purpose was to simulate what it’s like to be a parent (ha!). I could put my husband in charge of transporting our kids everywhere they needed to go for a week. I’d like to see what his car looked like after that!

These days the kids are bigger and it’s not so painful to transport them, although there’s a lot more transporting. They still fight, but it’s over who gets to ride up front, and whose music is turned up too loud on their headphones. I really like it when I get to drive just one of them somewhere. Now that they are all big enough to ride up front, it’s allowed for some excellent conversations. My kids are really interesting people. It’s not that they weren’t interesting when they had to be strapped in to special seats in the back; it’s just that when they ride up front, they talk to me. It’s less of a chauffeur/chauffee relationship. We talk about what’s on the radio, but we also talk about the things we pass, the way others are driving, and sometimes big issues like religion, dating, and what apps you can get on the i-phone.

In only a year, I will hand over the keys to my faithful car to my eldest son with his newly minted driver’s license. I will trust this car to take care of him and him to respect the privilege and danger inherent in driving it. I will sit home and watch the taillights leave the driveway and I will enter a whole new realm of parent worry. Riding in the passenger seat with him at the wheel I have no doubt I will wear out the floor mat on the brake pedal that is not there, just as my own parents did. I will be sure not to distract him with too much chatter and hold my tongue right up until the moment our lives are endangered.

The “leather” on the driver’s seat is cracking now, and the metal covering on the door latch has flaked off. The button for switching between channels on the radio is blank, the little music insignia long gone. We are wearing out this car. I think it can traverse the globe at least 5 or 6 more times, but when it is gone I will miss it. I’ve passed a good portion of my children’s lives watching them in the rear-view mirror and now I’m trying to capitalize on the captive audience in the front seat. But I know about the time this car spins its last mile, is about the time these kids will move beyond our little 8 mile radius town.

Maybe I’ll get a convertible, like I’ve always wanted. I won’t need that back seat. Or maybe I’ll get a VW bug and no one will punch me in the arm every time they see me because they spotted a “punch-buggy” (is it only my kids who play this game?). And my car will be spotless, maybe. But no matter what I drive, it won’t be the same without the chatter in the backseat or the company in the front. Makes me want to capitalize on the captive audience I’ve got strapped in right now before they head out on their own long and winding road.

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