I’ve been spending significant (for me) drive time in the car lately. When my oldest started middle school last year, with after-school extra-curriculars all year, I felt like I was entering a long, dark tunnel of chauffeuring—most of it east-west (the worst way in Bloomington)—that I wouldn’t emerge from until 2017 (her younger sister’s high school class). It made me just want to lie down and cry for our Cambridge days, when we walked the same infant child everywhere, taking the car out of the garage once a week for groceries from Star Market.
However, over some months, I have devised several strategies to improve the drive time:
When other drivers are crazy and erratic, I practice mindfulness, cultivating a sense that I can afford to be generous, patient, and safety-conscious, letting other cars in and stopping for pedestrians. In short, PRESUME GOOD WILL, the mantra of WWF(a)C. After a recent devastating student pedestrian death on campus, I am aggressively stopping for walking students, even as I fear it will make them ever less wary about the dangers they seem so oblivious to. It fills me with a genuine sense of gratitude and a desire to foster good will and protect my fellow vulnerable humans, and frequently leaves me calmer and more positive than when I climbed into the driver’s seat.
Another informal therapy I engage in while driving is NOT multi-tasking. I multi-task so intensively all the time “on the ground” that I often fail to listen to the very answers to questions I have solicited from my children. I almost never talk on the phone while driving, can’t focus on the GPS while navigating, and more and more often, don’t even turn on the radio, news junkie though I may be. Often, I will find myself entering the kind of open, “mental space” that I find essential to writing poetry, and have conceived a number of poems while driving. (Of course, even to note ideas briefly puts me back in the multi-tasking dilemma again, and many would-be-poems have been lost in traffic.)
Other days, I find blaring classic rock music with the windows open a fabulous way to regain the youth I never had in a car (so wedded was I to the red Raleigh Grand Prix bought with babysitting money that I swore I would never learn to drive or get a license). Cheap and effective therapy also.
On the carpool days, I get to listen in on the lives of my children and their friends, which is fantastically informative. (I am not so good at not entering the conversation, my daughters report with annoyance; several years ago, I asked my oldest which parent in a multi-family carpool was the best driver, in a general sense, and was told in no uncertain terms that the best is the best because she says nothing.)
Finally, I am endlessly fascinated by people, watching the worlds and populations I drive through. In recent years, I have felt somewhat sad at how many pedestrians are plugged in, listening to or talking with someone else instead of thinking their thoughts and allowing time for some precious reverie. I will always remember a handwritten letter I received in
My kids, hemmed in by an uncrossable state highway, walk very few places, although they have had the privilege of walking to a neighborhood elementary school and we water our dog around the neighborhood several times a day. I don’t walk many places either, for reasons of time and traffic and multi-tasking. In place of the reverie once enjoyed while walking through our lives, I’m trying to restore a new version in my car.
Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse