Monday, May 25, 2015

Car Talk

I spend a lot of time in the car. Blessing and Curse duke it out for shotgun everyday. Somedays I spend up to three hours cumulatively in the car per day. That's a lot of time to think and play out imagined, though possible, scenarios both in my head and out loud.

I listen to music, which often becomes the soundtrack to the trailer of the movie my life could have been. Sometimes the music acts as an accelerant fanning the flames of any emotional spark. Sometimes the music provides inspiration for my next great idea which turns into reality the aforementioned movie of what my life should be. Sometimes the music is all boring and makes me listen to the news.

My main activity in the car, however is either gaining perspective or distorting proportional response; sometimes in the same ride. Three days a week I have an hour commute to work. This commute begins after I drop Teenager #1 off at school. The quality of that five minute ride usually determines the course of the following hour commute. There are usually two responses once Teenager #1 leaves the car:
  • "Well that went well. Good parenting this morning Mary; he's a great kid."
  • "Have a great day ass hole."
And then the hour begins. 

Minutes 1-5: Play out what I really wanted to say had I been strong enough or foolish enough. Remind Teenager #1 about how he really knows nothing and how dare he talk to me that way, and he should get down on his knees and thank all who can be thanked for all I do for him, and does he have any idea how much I have sacrificed day in and day out, and he better find his own way home today because he doesn't deserve to have me drive him anywhere, and it is not my fault that I didn't anticipate that the breakfast he loved yesterday would be the one he loathed today.

Minute 6: Tear up. Breathe. Tear up. Change radio station.

Minutes 7-9: Listen to traffic report. Find least offensive morning talk/pop station as a distraction.

Minutes 10-14: Call husband in superficial attempt at logistical briefing and clarification: who's picking up who? Did you fill the dog's water dish? Is there any milk left? This line of questioning quickly gives way to the real reason for my call which is to passive aggressively share my morning's stress by reminding him how much easier he has it by getting to drive Teenager #2 to school; because we like to hurt and hate the ones we love rather than feel our own pain. Nine times out of ten he doesn't pick up because he's smart, or his ringer is off, or he is being a responsible driver in contrast to me, and I contemplate leaving a text until the morning DJ introduces the next scintillating segment "five scents that drive a man wild-they're not what you think" inviting us to call or text in our response, but remember "don't text and drive." So I don't, because I'm a good girl.

Minutes 15-28: I plug in my phone and listen to my own music. Depending on how the shuffle goes I either formulate a better response to Teenager #1's behavior this morning which balances empathy, respect and appropriate limits and consequences; or I write my own one-act play of how things will go when I see him later in the day. This play often includes poignant pauses filled with subtext, and, eventually, a contrite child who helps me bring in the groceries without being asked.

Minutes 29-39: My mind moves to work. What am I teaching today? Who am I teaching today? Am I prepared for that meeting? How do I stay positive? What am I doing with my life? Could I earn more working at the Gap? How hard could it be to publish a book? I'm sure I could write a screenplay. What if I turned my blog into a one-woman show? I'll start selling my knitting on Etsy. Yes that will definitely pay the bills and satisfy my soul.

Minutes 40-47: I sit in a long line at the left turn signal and check my emails when traffic isn't moving because I remember that DJ's wise words. I switch back to the radio. Shockingly they are still talking about scent # 4, bacon.

Minute 47-48: I think about what I will eat next. I wish it was bacon. It will probably be my granola bar. Why wait. I eat it now. I resent it for not being bacon.

Minutes 48-54: I hate all other drivers and begin to panic that I will be late for my first class. My panic leads to blaming Teenager #1 for slowing down every time I said I need to get to work by 8:15. 

Minute 54: I marvel at my martyrdom.

Minute 55: I am stopped by diligent suburban crossing guard and watch children crossing street on their way to school. I wish my kids could walk to school. Then life would be idyllic like it was in the 50's. Oh, wait, Mad Men. I watch the innocence of this moment and either get over myself or resent the contrast.

Minutes 56-58: I ask myself again who authorized other drivers to be on the road right now.

Minute 59: I rush back to the parked car to retrieve my Diet Coke because survival tools are survival tools.

Minute 60: Breathe. Tear-up. Breathe. Teach.

And of course the act of action clears my head and reboots my hard drive and all is possible once again.

All this time in the car alone with my head and heart alternates between being therapeutic and being, well, the building blocks to so many bad decisions. I'm sure guided meditation or audiobooks or even NPR is the easy answer to a more consistently successful commute. Ultimately, however, this time gains me the figurative and very literal distance that I sometimes need from all things familial. It is captive time alone that helps me process life. One hour does not always end with a tidy epiphany, it usually evolves into dust settling which makes some things stand out in relief, covers others up and leaves others looking unchanged. It is time that has been bequeathed to my by circumstance. I do not always see it as such, and often squander the opportunity it presents. But it gives me the chance to be every part of me there is; the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the wise, the deluded and so on. 

And the only guarantee I can offer, is that I always signal before I change lanes.

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