empty car syndromThe windows of my cars have exposed the vista of my life as a mom for over 20 years. These windows have transitioned from the boxy, plate glass of a 4×4 Jeep, to the spaceship curves of a Chrysler mini-van, to the vast expanse of a Chevy Suburban, to a sleek, second-hand BMW sedan.  The journey from nursery schools to college campuses has been long, winding, and sometimes bumpy, but the endpoint has always been the same.  I arrive to pick up or drop off one of my daughters, and watch her open and close the windowed door to my life.

My four children never rode a school bus.  They had a chauffeur.  Me.  I drove each of them to school, play dates, Girl Scout meetings, swim practice, middle school dances, the mall, skating rinks, and movie theaters.  I remember my youngest spent so many years in the back seat while we shuffled her sisters to activities that she called it her “office” and set up a car lap desk with crayons, papers, and snacks.

Through the years, I’ve driven up and down the east coast to kids’ sporting events.  I’ve sat in parking lots at teen concerts with my feet out the car window for hours.   I’ve pulled up to the train station at 2 a.m. to pick up my college kids after a night out in the city. Chauffeuring four busy girls for two decades was, at times, a full-time job.  For many years the trips resembled Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as the car door opened up to a destination, and the rider jumped out after a frantic race.

Now, with only one daughter at home­­­­­­­­ who’s a high school sophomore my job has been cut from full, to part-time, to near lay-off.  My “car office” daughter now has her permit and should have her license in a few short months.  I still have to drive her everywhere, or sit in the passenger seat with my foot pumping a pretend break while she drives.  You would think that teaching the fourth child how to drive would be easier, but that same hysterical mom voice comes back: “You’re too close to the curb!”  “Watch that branch!”  “How did you not see that truck backing up?”

After two decades of non-stop driving I should be ready to give up the wheel.  Happy to hang up my keys.  How many times have I said, “Sure you can go…if you can get a ride,” when my daughter wants to come home on weekends past my 10 p.m. bedtime?  Soccer mom can turn into slacker mom after too many kids.  I’m so tired of driving that I dream of moving into the city, selling our three cars, and only taking public transportation with someone else behind the wheel.

Still, I’m having the same ambivalence about this transition that I had as my nest was emptying.  As each daughter left home, there was one less plate to set.  I haven’t learned how to make a small lasagna.  The laundry basket is too light.  As I watched my daughter get out of the car at school this morning I realized that this vista will soon fade.  A huge part of my kids’ dependence on me will be over.  Some of my best memories of my girls’ childhood happened in one of our family cars while I kept my eyes on the road and my ears tuned into the stories of their lives.

Now I drive alone in my car so much that NPR and 1010 WINS are the only stations I listen to.  No more FM for me.  No more fighting over stations.  I can listen to all the news I want to about Russian aggression, overturned tractor-trailers and five-day forecasts.

It’s pretty boring.



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