On life, love, cars: the growing pains that come with changing family roles
When I first met my husband, he had three vehicles: one zippy little car he drove on a regular basis, a truck for when conditions called for a bit more zap and a classic car (aka The Green Beast) that was in need of zip, zap, and ze other before it would even consider starting up.
Early in our relationship I pointed out his car-to-human ratio seemed a bit askew, but he was quick to note that I was pushing the limits with the feline population of my household. So when Car Guy married Cat Girl, we vowed to love, honor, and not acquire anything else that purred or hummed.
At the time, I drove a dime-a-dozen silver SUV. Despite growing up on the outskirts of the Motor City, cars have just never been my thing, never anything more than a way to get from Point A to B. But when you say "I do" to an automotive engineer, you soon develop an appreciation for the finer points of the vehicular world (at least you try really, really hard not to let your eyes glaze over completely during car-related conversations), and eventually find yourself snapping photos of the parts your loved one designed like they are newborn family members, because they kind of are.
You resign yourself to the fact that you are a Garage Widow on many weekend afternoons, but feel comforted knowing that if the new issue of Car and Driver magazine happens to arrive on the same day as the Victoria's Secret catalogue, those women might as well be wearing burqas for all he sees.
Fast forward seven years, and my how things have changed. The truck is gone, and sadly so is one of our feline family members. We traded in the SUV (with nearly 200,000 miles on it- thank you, Ford!) for a safe, reliable, family mobile, to which Car Guy insisted we add 20-inch wheels for a bit of style. And a few years back, the zippy little car was upgraded to a sleek, high performance piece of machinery affectionately dubbed "The Blue Rocket." It was the car of Car Guy's dreams, the one he'd always coveted, the one for which he had reserved one of the deepest tokens of modern day male admiration: he had made it his screensaver.
Though it was born to race on the Autobahn, the Blue Rocket adapted well to life in Metro Detroit, keeping Car Guy company on his short-in-distance but long-on-traffic commute. The two were inseparable and Car Guy spent many long hours just gazing at the Rocket's innards. It was not unusual to find two size-10 feet sticking out from underneath the vehicle, and I learned after my first panic attack that silence simply meant he was in awe. I even tried not to get too jealous of the caresses exchanged in the weekly sponge bath. Yes, for a time the Blue Rocket fit nicely into the Shand family fold.
And then one day, it didn't. Looking back, it wasn't really all that sudden, just something that happened over the course of one move to the 'burbs, two kids, and a few job changes. Turns out the back seat of the Blue Rocket isn't actually designed to comfortably hold a rear-facing baby and a front-facing preschooler in their respective car seats. Also turns out the orange, highly adhesive substance formed when child slobber meets goldfish cracker is not so easily removed from a Blue Rocket's pristine interior.
With the move, Car Guy's commute to work was now a long distance haul, and the high performance, premium fuel only vehicle became a massive money suck. And speaking of sucking money, repairing one's high performance, premium fuel only vehicle will set your family budget back a pretty penny (and by that I really mean the cost of cruising the Caribbean...in a deluxe cabin...twice). It was time to sell.
In the meantime, Car Guy managed to get the old Green Beast (which was the first car he ever purchased) up and running, and decided to sell that, too. Though at one point he had dreamed of future tinkering with his son (aka Car Boy, who at age 3 can already name the make and model of most cars he sees), he realized he get more enjoyment out of being able to give a tricycle its very own parking spot in the garage. The Green Beast was just taking up space, both physical and emotional.
Buyers for both cars came quickly, and, before we knew it, we faced the possibility of being sans car for Car Guy, as his fuel-efficient, family-friendly vehicle of choice wouldn't be available for a few months. Enter my dad's car, which is currently sitting unused in his driveway, as he is no longer physically able to drive. We arranged to borrow it and drove over to pick it up last week. As we returned home that evening, Car Guy in my dad's car, me and the kids in mine, I found myself feeling unexpectedly emotional. It started with a tear as we backed out the driveway and picked up speed to a sob nearly as fast as the car cruised down the highway.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not upset over the loss of these cars. While I do feel a little sad that my husband is giving up something he worked for and loves, I'm proud of him for recognizing it's time to move on, and I know he wouldn't trade the life we have today for anything on four wheels. But much like a certain car company that will remain nameless, I think I'm having trouble with life's sudden acceleration.
As I watched my husband drive away in my dad's car, I realized the person who always sat in the driver's seat no longer can. As I looked in the rear view mirror at my sleepy babies, I suddenly felt completely unprepared to take the wheel. All I wanted to do was stop the car, crawl into the comfort and security of a rear-facing seat and fall fast asleep, dreaming of the way things once were. But it's my responsibility now to drive on, and so I did, tears and all.
I've seen firsthand that holding onto things when they no longer serve a purpose in your life doesn't do any good. My parents still insist on staying in the house we grew up in, even though it no longer physically suits their needs. It's now far too big, far too cluttered, far too much to maintain, and on the verge of needing massive repairs. As I watch them struggle to even walk up the stairs and see the patio where we use to play crumbling away, it no longer feels like a place that honors happy memories- it's become a sad reminder of what no longer is.
I remember when my dad taught me to drive, more than two decades ago. "Your main focus is what's in front of you," he said, pointing at the road. "But you need to keep glancing right here," he warned as he adjusted my rearview mirror, "or you will be hit from behind." Now I understand exactly what he meant.
In some ways we're currently driving through unfamiliar territory, and sometimes I'm quite frankly terrified of the road ahead. There's no map that explains how to grow up, how to raise your kids, how to cope with the suffering of a parent. I don't know exactly where we're heading, but I do know it sure feels good to have a Car Guy by my side.
Mona Shand is a radio and TV news reporter who is happy for the moment to live in a two-car, two-child, one-cat household. You can read more on her blog.