In which I contract driving madness

This is the story of how I contracted driving madness. It happened several weeks ago, but the pain is still fresh. 

To understand what really happened — to truly savor the full robust flavor of the drink I am about to proffer you — you have to understand that, the whole time everything I am about to tell you is going on, I am driving. I am driving all the time. All I do is driveDriving is what I am. That’s all there is to me, anymore: Drivingness. 

The reason for this is that my husband and I decided, against our better judgment, that he should fly away on a business trip to the rather far-fetched-sounding state of Texas for four days. The reasons for this will become more clear as the story proceeds.

He used to travel a lot, just about every week, back when our family was young and I wasn’t as good as screaming, “YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE” as I am nowadays. We didn’t like that kind of life at all, and we decided not to do that anymore.

But we did decide he should go, just this once, and I would take care of things back home, mostly by driving. This is because we have six kids who go to four different schools in two different towns, none of which are in the town we live in; and three of our kids go to college in another town, but live at home, and they all work part time in town. We do have one extra car, and one of our kids can currently drive it, so that helps somewhat. That kid would do his driving, I would do my driving and my husband’s driving, and it would be a lot of driving, but we could do it. That was the plan.

Then I took a look at my calendar for the week he would be gone, and o! What a clever woman I am. I saw that, on the week I was solo parenting, in addition to all the usual trips and errands and chores and obligations and side quests, I had scheduled physical therapy for my hip, and a neurological evaluation for one of the kids, and I had, as a long-overdue birthday present, bought tickets to see an off-Broadway show in the next state, and I had also, this is true, signed up to cook an Italian meal in honor of St. Clare for 35 youth group kids. 

And we also had a driving test for one of the kids. Which in theory would come in handy eventually, but which at the moment felt like seeing someone drowning and quickly tossing them the blueprint for a boat. 

So I said to myself. I said. I can do this. We can all do this. All we have to do is keep our wits about us, stick to the schedule, go to sleep at a reasonable hour, remember not to pack any nuts in the school lunch, order some underwear for the child who mysteriously suddenly has none, remember to say our prayers before bedtime, and you know what will happen?

That’s right, your car will break down.

That’s right, the car you just put new front brakes and rear brakes and front struts into at great expense. That’s right, the car you just bought a few months ago, which is why your husband thought it was probably a good idea to go on this trip and maybe pick up a little extra money if possible, because we apparently bought a shiny red car-shaped money hole instead of a car.

So into the shop went the car. I, being a spoiled American, had an extra vehicle at my disposal, if you will recall. It is the vehicle that my three oldest children usually drive, and I am more than welcome to use it for MY driving. The only catch is that I must now drive the older children to and from the places they need to be. Which is EVERYWHERE, and very late at night indeed for a very old woman. It’s a good thing I already had physical therapy scheduled, because by the end of the first day of this driving schedule back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to get everybody where they needed to be, I was suffering from a third degree case of herniated vehicular sadbottom* and I was just plain gloomy about it, I really was. 

So we got through the day, and then I got up the next morning and man, I was on my game. I had clothes picked out, I had made hot cereal, I knew where everyone’s water bottles were, I was brushing hair left and right, writing checks, signing permission slips, shouting about deodorant, and I was just absolutely wowing myself. We left the house a spectacular four minutes early, and I shouted gleefully for everyone to get in the car, get in the car! Which they tried to do. But they couldn’t. Because the car I was driving was the car — I believe we’ve spoken of this car before — where the seat doesn’t super duper go up. It just stays down and looks stupid. And that means there aren’t enough seats for everyone. 

Oh children, get out of mommy’s car.

Children, get out of mommy’s sight, because mommy is going to have a little come-apart, just for one quick minute.

And so then, I got back to driving. Every so often, as I drove, I would call the mechanic, and they would tell me various interesting stories. First they would say it was the timing chain, which (I looked it up) is very bad indeed. Then they said, never mind, it was actually just some stupid little sensor and everybody was happy, and I could have my car back again, and it was only a little bit of money, as soon as they had a bay open to work on it. Then they changed their mind and said it was the chain thing again, and for some reason somebody had hidden the chain way back in the back of the engine, and darn if they didn’t have to take the entire engine out to get at it, and it was going to take twelve hours. I am not making this up, twelve hours of labor, and they would get it it as soon as a bay opened up. They also changed my oil. 

I forgot to go to the neurological evaluation. I just forgot. Sorry. I’m a bad mother. I rescheduled. How hard could it be? You kids are all nuts. There; you’re evaluated, okay? I’ll cook the youth spaghetti or whatever tomorrow. They can take it or leave it, the little jerks. St. Clare would understand. St. Clare will have a little come-apart with me. St. Clare got to stay in one place and nobody made her drive anywhere. 

I will be honest, my husband came home last night and was a little concerned to see that, while I was glad to see him, I have contracted a slight case of driving madness, and everything just seems funny to me now. There is no cure. Maybe next time, I’ll be the one to go to Texas. I won’t even need a plane. I’ll just get in my car and drive

*not an actual condition, it turns out, but still very uncomfortable


Image from PxHere

A version of this essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly on December 12,2021.

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4 thoughts on “In which I contract driving madness”

  1. This made me laugh and triggered me a little.

    For thousands of years women had entire support systems.

    Beyond the “I have to laugh or I might cry” aspect of what you wrote, it reminded me of all the times I called B.S. on things that had been normalized and taken for granted, just because I was willing to suffer a ridiculous amount of discomfort to prove my steadfast loyalty and Christian credentials.

    I learned to draw a line in the sand to protect my own self worth and to protect the people I needed to be a good example to, so they wouldn’t feel like mothers could be relied upon to nearly murder themselves just enough to keep the wheel turning. They respect me, and women in general *more* for having higher standards now.

    I often think about what my Filipina friend once told me (“women in the U.S. have the hardest job of all the women, in every country!”) or the story my mother told me about my Scottish great grandfather, who managed a steel factory in Ohio. His mother made him an elegant suit, and told him he had to make his way in the world at 18. It sounds unbelievably harsh. My parents certainly didn’t do that, and nor have I, but good God! I can think of a ton of times that an over-18-year-old has behaved like an entitled ____ because they want to live by their own rules under my roof while they borrow the car,(leaving it on E), eat the food that they don’t want to shop for, cook, or clean up after…take a ten minute shower which does not entail the scrubbing of any grout ..leave their clothing draped over chairs or on the floor.

    We took the easy way out–left our home to the little wolves–and moved 300+ miles away so they can be gainfully employed, cook, clean, shop for groceries and take public transportation until they have saved up enough to pay for a cheap car, insurance, and their cell phones. We have 10 lines on our plan AND direct access to their bank accounts. Five down, three to go.

    Even if I still find myself biting my tongue right and left about their questionable choices,they respect me more now for being firm about my standards. *Not* living with a 20 y.o. can preserve the relationship!

    Anyway, after all I’ve just groused about I have to admit that I’m still a pushover right and left. I also wonder how I can be a solution to the problem of women/mothers not having enough of a support system, if my kids end up living scattered all over.

  2. Oh! Oh! I’m laughing with that first Oh!, and sympathizing with the 2nd one. Oh my. …. Oh *your*!!

    This was very amusing to read (esp. “How hard could it be? You kids are all nuts. There; you’re evaluated, okay?” 😂) — you’re such a good writer. But I’m very sorry that it all really happened in your life.
    Lord, please help Simcha and her family know Your grace in their lives.

  3. Naturally, Johnny Cash has a song appropriate for the occasion:

    Most of my driving is mercifully behind me. It costs us a ton in teen driver insurance – we pay more in car insurance than we do for our mortgage. And the logistics of one kid’s weird sport causes him to Uber a fair amount back and forth between Center City and North Philadelphia, but it’s cheaper than having him park downtown and the alternative would be me picking him up in rush hour traffic each day so family sanity is worth something.

  4. I feel it. I have five, and despite the fact that three of them are over 16 and one recently turned 16, ONLY ONE has her license yet. The others are dragging their feet about it. So many doctor and specialist appointments, so many drop-off-at-works, I counted up the hours each week I was spending in the car but it was just too depressing to remember. Moving into a tiny apartment and never speaking to anyone I’m related to again started to sound attractive. One child quit her job in early December so I didn’t have to do that. We have a goal of acquiring another car in the next few months to support my long-term sanity.

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