SPECIAL FROM BetterAfter50
By Amy Ruhlin
It’s a hot Monday morning in July and there is no breeze; the air is still and I can feel August approaching. I’ve awoken late and I lie in bed thinking about metal and rubber, about machines that take us from point A to point B, about cars. My daughter has her own car and my son will soon have his own; why I am still driving a mom bus?
I think about my daughter’s upcoming move into her first apartment. We need my car to carry a kitchen table and four chairs, a large mattress and a long desk. I think about other things I’ve carried in my car: car seats holding my babies, little giggly girls and small rowdy boys, sports equipment for hockey games, teenagers laughing and playing loud word games, and colorful beach chairs and packed coolers for family vacations. I stare at the ceiling and realize that I’ve become attached to driving inside of a large open space; a container for holding all of the things that I most dearly love but that is now most often empty.
I finally get up and go downstairs and walk into the kitchen. My kids sit at the table and stare at their laptops. I say good morning but they do not hear me; headphones cover their ears. I move closer to them but they do not see me; pixelated images fill their eyes. I stand there in my pajamas and I feel invisible. My role as a mother is shifting beneath my feet and I struggle with my balance. My kids are moving themselves from point A to point B and I need to figure out how to do the same.
I need some air so I get dressed and step out into the heat and take the dog for a walk. The day is hot and there is no movement; I find no relief and no solutions. The dog and I circle the neighborhood and we come back home. I check my phone and my husband has sent me a lifeline in the form of a text:
"Wanna go look at cars tonight?"
He has encouraged me for months to follow through with my idea of downsizing my car. I question the audacity of considering the possibility of not having a car that meets everyone’s needs.
I smile and text back, "Sure let’s eat dinner out too."
We test drive three cars. The first two are only different versions of what I have been driving for the past 20 years: a practical family car with plenty of cargo space. They are at least smaller, but they are not really what I need; they are not really what I am looking for.
"So, how do you feel when you drive them?" my husband asks.
"Bored," I reply.
We circle the car lot one last time and I see a model that I had not seen before. It is a smaller car with a hatchback: enough room for a family of four but with a simple style and a European flair; it is no mom bus.
We take it out for a drive. It’s roomy and smooth and hugs the road. It’s fun.
We decide to go home and think about it. On the way, we stop at a restaurant and eat ribs and drink martinis.
"You looked so happy driving that car, just like I remember you when we were young. You looked like Amy," my husband says.
Before I had children, I drove small cars with stick shifts. I wasn’t afraid to take risks and I swore I would never live in the suburbs or drive a minivan. Motherhood makes liars of us all.
I’m afraid my new car will scream "midlife crisis" so I text my son,
"Do you think this car looks too young for me?"
"No. How could something look too young? Looks awesome to me," he texts back.
It seems so silly; scraps of metal and rubber wheels have made me smile and given me hope. But here at the age of 50, it somehow seems fitting and like a step in the right direction. It is a declaration of my independence. It is a way back to myself, to the girl I used to be before I took on the role of mother, to the girl who has no problem navigating her way from point A to point B.
It’s Tuesday morning and I’m out of bed early. I step outside and feel a cool breeze. For the first time in weeks, I think about my writing and the second half of my life awaiting me. I’ve gained some balance and the tilt has shifted toward me.
My children walk into my office and sit down on the sofa. They are interested in what I am writing and they are excited about my new car. As I’ve moved back toward my own self, I have become more visible; there is more of me for them to hear; there is more of me for them to see. There is more of me to give.
We talk and laugh easily together for a good while and finally my daughter asks, "So, your new car won’t have room to carry all of my stuff to my new apartment?"
"Nope," I say. We’ll have to rent a U-Haul.