Lessons While Driving


My mom says Dad could never sit around the apartment. He’d come home eleven hours after he’d left, shed his city-coated suit, eat the dinner my mom was learning to make, and then say, “Let’s go for a drive.”

We’d get buckled into the blue volvo and cruise the streets. Mom says it was back when gas was cheap and they were young and the apartment walls felt like a trap.

I don’t remember this – we moved out of the two bedroom apartment when I was three – but I do remember the lull of the car from the backseat. I remember watching the taillights and asking how come everyone got to speed except us. I was sandwiched between the twins’ carseats, and they thoroughly enjoyed pulling my hair.

When we grew up a little and moved to the house, I remember driving on the weekends. My favorite was when we headed to the beach, especially in a storm, and watched the waves hit the rough, red sand. Late-afternoon Sundays spent along winding marsh roads, the twins had stopped pulling hair by then, and Harrison was tucked into his carseat. We ate grapes and danced in the water, my aunt and uncle meeting us for a beach dinner (or at least, that’s how I remember it).

And then our twice-yearly trips to Maine…a slightly different story. We drove the six or seven hours, often with a dog or two in the backseat. Long after we’d started asking, we stopped at a gas station and Dad would buy two fruit pies – one for himself and one for the four of us to split. Mom would get her diet coke (but none for us ’cause kids drink tried and true coca cola), and, when I got old enough, I’d opt for a snickers over the fruit pie. I got pretty adept at reading in a moving vehicle, and the first book I remember reading in the car was a green biography of George Washington. The biggest book I ever read was Harry Potter, page after page until we rolled into the driveway.

[This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I thought as I was taking my driving test.]

My first car will beat any future cars because it’s a cream convertible bug and there’s nothing that screams *FUN* like one of those.

The first time I was allowed to drive kids outside my family (i.e., the day I had my license for six months) was Cinco de Maio in 2005. My two cousins and my sister and I headed to Chile’s, the top down and the freest we’d ever been. We were home by 8:00 but it felt like heaven.

This summer I went for the longest road trip of my twenty-five years. The girls knew what they were doing – they packed food to eat on the drive, taught me that you leave in the middle of the night and take shifts, and were far better at pushing through the exhaustion than I was. I felt like a little kid in the backseat, and I didn’t mind the feeling at all. When I woke up, rubbing my eyes, we were in New York state and it was my turn soon. I felt like a little kid who could somehow drive a car.

When we stopped, I got a coke and snickers. Tried and true road trip food.

Talks in Cars

He sits in the back of my beetle. I forgot that eleven-year-olds usually sit in the back, so my attempt at cleaning (a.k.a., throwing everything in the backseat) was completely pointless. I make excuses, some fair, some not so much, and he tells me he doesn’t mind. I ask if his room were clean. He says yes, usually.

We drive for thirty minutes through the snow, the trees bending over the road. It’s supposed to be nearly sixty degrees this weekend, and I’m dreading the brown bedraggled wetness that will bring – just in time for Christmas.

“How was school?”
“What are your dogs names?”
“Do you have any siblings?”

– I ask.

“What’s that?” – he asks, and I clarify:

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

We go back and forth for a few minutes, neither of us quite sure how to navigate this new, unique relationship. He asks the usual progression of questions:

1. Do you have any children?

No! I answer, up-beatly.

2. Do you have a husband?

No! I answer, equally up-beatly.

I can feel his mind awkwardly fumbling for the next question, because what comes after that?

3. Do you have any pets?

These I do have, thank goodness, and I tell him about our three crazy dogs and my eighteen chickens. He listens to my every word, but he doesn’t always respond. He looks out the window.

He asks what my job is, and when I tell him I teach Latin and then explain what Latin is, he goes on to ask if I teach Spanish? French? What other languages? I wish I could tell him, Yes, yes, I teach them all!

There is a comfortable silence now, like we’ve known each other awhile. Maybe having animals makes me trustworthy. Maybe fulfilling his dream of riding in a beetle makes me fun. Maybe the fact that I “look like a science teacher in those glasses” makes me knowledgable.

Either way, I think we’ve crafted an interesting relationship. One that will happen once a week, growing into each other and our uniqueness.