Rubber on the Road

By chance, I start reading a new novel — The Father Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri — and I’m back in those young motherhood days I thought would go on and on eternally — changing diapers, mashing peas, carrying little kids. Those days didn’t, of course. The youngest is now learning to drive.

My youngest logs in hours for her driver’s ed class. Sunday morning, we head to Montpelier. She parks in front of the statehouse, and we walk up the enormous granite steps. There’s no one around, save for five joggers decked out in full Santa suits. They wave merrily at us.

We head south along Route 2, through stoplights, towards Barre, talking about green arrows, lane changes, and the rules about turning, or not, on red. I’m giving my daughter a road map. At the same time, she asks questions about her father and where he’s gone. Talking with my daughter, on this sunny Sunday morning, at the end of a November that hasn’t even gotten cold yet, I know there’s so much unknown in all our lives, that the mystery of pandemic and chance and human relationships is a piece of participating in the human world.

Be wary, I caution my daughter. Look before heading into intersections. Read signs. Get out and admire the view from the steps, and wave to the silly Santas, too.

Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still…
Iris, blue each spring

― Shushiki

Photo by Molly S.

True Compass

Yesterday, my 15-year-old drove on the interstate for the first time. Fittingly, this route was one of our favorites — a hardly used stretch across northern Vermont and New Hampshire.

Coming home, we took the long way around St. Johnsbury, where one interstate joins in with another.

At a particular but unremarkable place, just as we crested a hill, I remember driving this same highway in our old blue Volvo, my then-husband in the passenger seat, our girls in the back, talking and doing some kid craft project. My then-husband and I were listening to an NPR report about Teddy Kennedy and the late senator’s true compass.

So many years have passed since then. Our youngest is now driving, utterly confident, her sister and I offering advice — be wary of semis, know that blind spot. As I’m chauffeured by her, I think how my daughters will be tested in their lives in ways neither of their parents have, their own forming compasses pushed and challenged. So often, I feel I endlessly run my mouth with advice — don’t trust any other driver, suspect impairment and incompetence — but I know my girls always make their choices, create their own lives, enact their own unique dramas.

Mostly, I’m just so damn glad to be here, still part of their lives, ragged and worn out, the worrying mama….

True compass, I ponder as we drive home. This piece I keep to myself.

Random Evening

After dinner, I suggest walking to the post office with the mail that needs to go out.

My 15-year-olds says hopefully, Drive?

I’d rather not. I rather walk by the food pantry and admire their stunning flower garden before this season’s blossoms fade, but I say sure. For a few more months, she can’t drive without me.

There’s hardly anyone out this evening, as she drives to the post office, then up to the high school where she parks, and we laugh, and we walk around the building. The school’s been closed for months now. Weeds from the front flowerbed spread across the cement walkway.

There’s no one around. A heron wings across the sky.

At the parking lot’s exit, she brakes and asks me, Which way?

You’re driving, I answer.

She turns away from home.

As she drives, I think of that old cliché, that having small children brings you into the hear-and-now. Same for the pandemic, I suppose. She circles through town and stops at the community gardens, where I get out and admire the raised beds.

Each of these days is a kind of bouquet — filled with work and exhaustion, with garden picking and wood stacking, with my daughter’s wondering, Will soccer really begin this Monday?, with our little family, sometimes getting along, sometimes out of sorts, but always pulling together in one way or another.

As she drives, I think of history and all the hard, hard times people have endured. The future lies before us, a great unknown, and yet, each day, this daughter edges one day closer to her own womanhood.

She pulled over to the side of the road, parks, and get out. Look at the sky, she says. She snaps a photo, making a memory of these days.

Photo by Gabriela S.