Could say: needs must when the devil drives. Could say: desperate times call for desperate measures. If I were a certain ethnicity and drove a certain sort of car, a BOLO* would surely have been issued for me by now, given the slow circuitous route I just took through the neighborhood and the way I made blocks, then doubled back and drove them again and then turned down the streets paralleling them for more than half an hour.
But I look neither young, nor hungry. I am a forty-three-year-old mom, Merrill-shod foot pressed against the brake (not the accelerator, the point being to drive slow), clad in low-rise jeans and a black fleece hoodie. My vehicle’s a VW Passat with an Obama sticker pasted to its back bumper; the back seat of my station wagon is full of car seats; the luggage compartment’s full of strollers and shreds of children’s artwork and wadded canvas grocery totes.
I am backing the car slowly out of the driveway because we are losing Younger Girleen’s nap and I have just realized that after today, it will be at least a month before I have a moment or two sans offspring** and the list of things that must be done — by me — that sits at my right hand is pages long right now, and without the nap, there will be no time for anything.
Fact: when the nap is on the way out, the car can sometimes lull the reluctant to sleep. And this is my dirty little secret: sometimes when the going gets tough, I throw the three-year-old into the car.
Younger Girleen is strapped and cinched into her car seat, she is barefoot, she is deeply suspicious about my motivations. Are we picking up her sister? she asks. Are we going to Target? Are we going home? Are we going HOME? ARE WE GOING HOME?
When did I become this walking cliche? When did I become a person who drives a black station wagon and even worse, if it’s not tax-free weekend or Black Friday considers a trip to Target a recreational jaunt? Once I dated boys in bands and streaked my hair and did all sorts of wild things.
But it happens to the best of us, real life.
The trees outside the windshield are elegant and austere. It is 67 degrees. Younger Girleen stares out the window.
Her eyelids droop; I eagerly turn homeward.
One more long block, one more street, surely that will do the trick!
When Elder Girleen gets home, a voice from the back seat pipes up, we will play Mac the Superhero.
Whatever that might be!
But if a slow drive can’t lull the napless into sleeping it can lull the mother into peace.
Does any of the stuff on that to-do list really matter? The insurance forms to fill out, the phone calls to return, the packages to seal and label? The writing that I once considered my best, my real, work? The laundry to be shuffled from washer to dryer from dryer to pile on bed, from pile on bed to chest of drawers? The cereal to be swept from the floor, the dishes to be rinsed? The too-small red patent leather shoes become talisman to a three-year-old that must be hidden away while her eyes are closed so she won’t hobble through the rest of life, a maiden with bound feet?
1: 07 p.m.
At a certain point, the knowledge that one looks absurd trumps desperation. I pull back into the driveway; Younger Girleen is still awake. I have made my peace with things.
Younger Girleen clambers up onto the sofa. I’m going to sit here just a second, she says.
And then, God bless us everyone, she’s just like that asleep.
*BOLO: Email Neighborhood Watch Group-ese for Be On The Look Out; smash and grabs are up and when you throw that into the mix, nobody’s behavior looks particularly pretty.
**Thursday’s the last day of school, but an orthodontist appointment in the far-north ‘burbs and attendance at various school winter holiday functions precludes much being crossed off the to-do list tomorrow or the next day)