On the Road Again

The path of parenting is never clear ­ except on a road trip.

Whoever grasped the steering wheel was the center of attention -- and, of course, my father was always in the driver's seat. He dictated that the music would be classical. The gossip was highly inappropriate and mercilessly traded and chewed over, even when the tidbits included my Dad, who was the comic (and tragic) hero of every story.

Emotions passed over him like a drop in the barometric pressure. "Who the fuck does she think she is in those walking shorts?" he yelled one afternoon, thumping the dashboard for emphasis. (My sister and I knew better than to ask who she was, anyway, in her goddamn shorts.)

And then, a scant half-hour later, he opened all the windows to let in the sea air that was "like wine," he said. Like wine!

Michael Longstaff

"Now I want you kids to sing that Gilbert and Sullivan song -- and I want you to en-nun-ci-ate. Capeesh?"

In retrospect -- and is there any other 'spect? -- those hours in the car provided very little in the way of sharp turning points upon which the future could be hung. Instead, those hours simply streamed on as inevitably as the road ahead of and behind us, and we passed through them together, which is why the time was so important.

This frazzled-preoccupied-parent thing is nothing new, despite what Dr. Laura may tell you. But in a car, you are together, and time passes.


"Okay, now I'll tell one," Coco says. "You know how Kenton always raises his hand because he knows the answer to everything and Allison got her cast off and it was so funny we were playing flag football and this guy asked Mikey what he was doing and Mikey said what is the - no, wait, it wasn't him it was that other -- Mom? Mom? Hey, MOM?"

"Huh?"

"Mom, are you even paying attention? Look at my foot. See that red part? See? I think I really hurt myself."

"You're as healthy as an ox."

"Yeah, but MOM? It really hurts. I may need a Band-Aid."

"Hm."

The "hm" hangs in the air between us, but the invalid doesn't accept the challenge. Instead, she puts on her glasses and begins to read a book about the Oregon Trail. I expect her to become bored or carsick, but she doesn't. Again, this is something new. I swing the car wide into the turns, hoping for a break in the silence. She doesn't seem to notice.

"Hey," I finally ask, "have you decided what to be when you grow up?"

"Oh, an archaeologist. Or a violinist. Or a rabbi." She keeps reading, but then she looks up. "Why?" she asks. "Do you have any other questions about me?"

"Yes," I say, casting a fond glance at the fuel gauge, which registers full. "One or two."

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