Applying makeup. Putting in contact lenses. Knitting. Hanging one’s leg out the window. Watching a movie. Shaving. Picking one’s nose.
My eyes widened as I read the online list of things people do while they’re driving. Were humans coordinated enough to pull all this off in traffic? I understood multitasking and seizing the time, but what had become of us? And what would Karl Benz think of how we used his invention?
Pre-motherhood, I had my ideas about car rides and life. “When I have kids, no refined sugar for them,” I said.
But then I had babies, and they sometimes fussed in the thick of rush hour. My lofty intentions plummeted to their death.
“Here, catch,” I’d say, tossing marshmallows to my little passengers in the back seat. They squealed and gulped down the fluffy treats. And I swallowed my pride.
Back then, there was other excitement in the car too. Before Dicka could articulate her feelings, she had a penchant for carsickness.
“Mama, my mouth feels funny,” the toddler would say, her sentence always followed by two short coughs, then The Big Mess.
I learned to carry a bath towel in the car. And I could ball it up with one hand—the other on the steering wheel, my eyes trained forward—and pitch it back to Dicka before she got to the two coughs part.
But the girls didn’t remain tiny creatures who required marshmallows and towels during travel. They soon had other needs. And that period of time—when they were deeply involved in extra-curricular activities, but not yet old enough to drive—called for a parental chauffeur to simply move out of her home and relocate to the car.
Was anyone hungry? Dairy products were in the cooler; non-perishable foods in the tote bag. Anybody chilly? They could grab a blanket from the stack. Any need for a personal hygiene product, first aid item, or wardrobe remedy? The inventory included (but was not limited to) the following: hand sanitizer, bobby pins, Band-Aids, a lint roller, toothbrush, phone chargers, and even an extra pair of black tights.
The job as chauffeur was lowly but unavoidable. It looked like a necessary distraction on the road to something better. But it stripped away my personality and muted my sense of purpose. Was I created for this? I waited and transported. Transported and waited. Transported. And waited some more. While I frittered away my days behind the wheel, I gazed through the car windows at passersby who appeared to take their freedom for granted. Did they know how those of us on the inside felt? I marked notches on the armrest to count down the hours until my release.
But one day, something inside me switched.
What could I do to redeem my time while I wore down my tires? Spotify, Pandora, Audible, Duolingo, and YouTube entered my waiting. The time lag between points A and B became its own legitimate activity. The car morphed from mode of transportation to counseling office for us to grind out the details of life, work out schedules and futures, and soothe the wounds of the day. The vehicle transformed into a sanctuary where I sang, cried, and prayed. And our ride broke down sometimes too, rubbing the temporary discomfort across my rough edges like sandpaper and reminding me my First World issues only looked like problems.
While not as thrilling as kissing or working on one’s laptop while on the move, maybe character refinement during the long hours running up the odometer counts for something.
And maybe my car lessons could be added to the online list too.
Tamara Schierkolk has a heart for the inner city. She’s also a freelance grant writer, writes contemporary fiction, and since 2012, she and her family have hosted twenty-eight children in crisis through Safe Families for Children. She lives with her husband of twenty-five years, their three teenage daughters, and their beloved pit bull in North Minneapolis, a high-crime, low-income part of the city, because that’s where God called them. She writes about her life and adventures in her blog, My Blonde Life in the Hood.