Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Crumbmobile

[This is a repost from a few weeks ago, but it was only up for a week or two. If you missed it, enjoy. I hope to be back with new content next week.]

I drive a Mom car. Yep. Inside and out, my blue Volvo has Mom written all over it. That wasn’t my plan. When I bought it, I was looking for a comfortable commute and a little European engineering. But I guess sooner or later, we all turn into our parents.

Eric does not drive a Mom car. He doesn’t even drive a Dad car. So when Josh was born, I decided to put the extra car seat in the babysitting grandparents’ SUV instead of in his performance tire–clad, suspension-enhanced ride.

The real problem comes in on the weekends. That’s when Eric has to drive my car if he wants to take Josh anywhere outside our neighborhood. And that’s when I have to magically transform my Mom car into something more respectable. Something he can actually stand to drive.

That’s not easy.

When I see Eric come downstairs in his baseball cap and find Josh scrambling around for his shoes, I sneak into the garage to begin my weekly chore of decluttering what I not-so-affectionately refer to as “The Crumbmobile.”

The front passenger seat usually tells the story of our week. It is filled with time-sensitive paperwork. It is filled with assorted art projects. It is filled with miscellaneous chargers for the various electronic devices that recently died. I find the workbook from the wildlife museum we visited on Monday. I find the construction paper mitten Josh laced up at school on Tuesday and the self-portrait he drew on Wednesday. I find the unopened pretzel snack pack and juice box from our impromptu trip to the park on Thursday. And I find the Scholastic order form Josh enthusiastically handed me at sign-out on Friday with the collection of Froggy books circled. On the floor are a few empty Ziplock bags and the paperback book I planned to hand my bored four year old during a long car ride before I stopped quickly in traffic and it landed just out of reach.

I move the crucial and the cherished to the front lawn, and I trash the rest. Then I start on the back seat. Josh’s car seat looms large in the middle position. On its platform, it looks like his rightful throne, and I remind myself that this car is really not as much mine now as it is his.

He sits snugly each day in the five-point harness as I chauffer him from town to neighboring town on our way to parks, playdates, and preschool. He often rules from this elevated seat, offering unsolicited driving rules and tips. “Are you going 4-5, Mom? That sign says you should go 4-5,” he often instructs. Or “Slow down, Mom. The road is getting very bendy.”

Other times, he is my irrepressible navigator. When he hears my turn signal as I near the new shortcut road to school, he sometimes shouts, “No! I want to go the old way,” meaning the two-lane country road that winds past the last steadfast farms and equestrian centers that claimed this area when I was a girl. Who can blame him for preferring to look out at goats and cows, tall pompous grass and fields of mustard flowers, instead of cookie cutter houses built exactly eight feet apart and painted in various shades of beige?

I plan my week around his activities. I happily escort him to and fro. And I relish our drives while he is still willing to tell me about his day. It’s all worth the back seat driving and bossy orders to the Mom-turned-DJ to play the song about the pots and pans, not the one about the colors. No not that one. That one!

Scattered around his car seat is a veritable snapshot of his current interests: USA Hockey magazine lies face down on the seat to his right. 1001 Things to Spot with the bent back cover is propped upright on the floor at his feet. The Dynaco helicopter from the Cars movie that he has taken from car to house to car since Christmas is wedged part way under his car seat; he likes to spin the propeller as we drive. Scattered tissues, unopened fruit snacks, and a discarded fireman’s hat litter the vacant seats. But the floor is truly the most embarrassing part. It’s covered in two parts broken Cheerios and one part cereal bar crumbs, combined with the occasional empty juice box and an itinerant sippy cup.

As I heave item after item into the trash or onto my growing pile, I look around and realize that I am still alone. Both husband and son must be otherwise preoccupied with the ritual and routine of getting ready. Momentum is on my side. So I decide to tackle the trunk that I have struggled to fit only a couple bags of groceries into all week. What it could possibly be filled with is a complete mystery to me.

I lift the lid and remove the red duffle bag that holds Josh’s hockey gear along with Eric’s skates, red gloves, and black ski jacket, which is not to be confused with his once cream, now dingy gray winter coat with a second set of gloves poking out of the pocket that I remove next. I toss reusable Trader Joe’s bags and a navy and red plaid park blanket onto the pile. Then I add Josh’s lost pullover; two of Eric’s sweatshirts; and Josh’s backpack stuffed with activity books and crayons and enough little plastic games to keep him busy in restaurants, at the doctor’s office, and even in the grocery cart. I unload Josh’s bike helmet, a super-sized Frisbee, and a chunk of colorful rubber attached to a bungee cord that he got for his birthday. And as I survey the mound on the front lawn, I now understand why two bags of groceries barely fit.

It seems my Mom car is very much like my Mom life: It is stacked to the brim with everyone else’s stuff, leaving precious little room for my own. Along the way, I did discover a few things stashed in the corner that are truly mine. A Target gift card tucked inside the center console from a dear friend that I’ve been carrying around for months. A craft fair flyer that slid between the two front seats, reminding me how long it’s been since I’ve done anything moderately therapeutic. My favorite black umbrella — the one I carried through every major city on the East Coast on my springtime sabbatical several years ago, and again across Eastern Australia and New Zealand the October I was pregnant.

But most of the car’s contents are not mine at all. These things fuel others’ lives, satisfy others’ needs, and stir others’ souls. I am merely the vessel that facilitates these other lives, lending time and support while steering them in the right direction. Making sure my loved ones indeed have lives that are filled with their favorite things and activities.

Suddenly I hear voices and slamming doors, instructions and reminders. As I close the trunk and peer into the back seat, I now see a fuzzy blonde head rising up above the car seat. I hear the jingle of Eric’s keys and the whir of the electric seat moving down and back. I step away from the vehicle and onto the grass. And I wave as the blue Volvo glides slowly out of the driveway and turns onto the main road.

When it’s out of sight, I stretch my arms around my big load and carry it in the back door. But I don’t drop it in the middle of the family room floor where there is plenty of space to sort and fold and purge. Instead, I dump it in the middle of the guest bed, and shut the door, leaving all the sorting and folding and purging for another day. I walk through the family room past a hundred disheveled toys, through the kitchen past stacks of dirty dishes, and up the stairs to the back corner of the house where an old card table holds a small tote bag filled with fancy-edged scissors and glue, assorted brads and punches and eyelets. And where the weathered dresser on back wall contains a drawer full of paper.

At this table where my grandmother used to sew dresses for her three daughters, I am surrounded by nothing more than little scraps and memories. Some bold and bright. Others small and subtle. So I collect my favorite supplies, dust off my trimmer, and begin piecing myself back together, bit by fascinating bit.

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