I’m sitting inside my stuffy minivan where I’ll be for the next hour while my 16-year-old son attends yet another baseball practice. If I roll down the windows, I’ll be attacked by mosquitos, but if I turn on the car to enjoy the A/C, I’m wasting gas and simultaneously destroying the environment. It took us nearly an hour to get here, traversing multiple highways and battling rush hour traffic, but for once I don’t mind.
Driving to Sports Practice
For more than a decade I’ve dreaded driving to and from these practices and all that entails. I’ve loathed the last-minute “I forgot my— ” (fill in the blank, “water bottle,” “helmet,” “glove,” etc.). I have despised serving dinner at 4:30 p.m. because we needed to arrive at some faraway field by 5:30 p.m. for a game that wouldn’t begin until 7 p.m.
I’ve resented serving up a second dinner at 9:30 p.m. because, of course, everyone’s hungry again, that initial early bird meal long forgotten. I have swum through oceans of guilt as I fished my two younger sons out of the pool to venture to ballparks without playgrounds or even port-o-johns. I’ve complained about attempting to work from the middle of nowhere, conducting interviews on a staticky cell phone, typing up a story with spotty WiFi.
But tonight, I don’t mind any of it. Why and how have I finally made peace with driving to and from sports practices? I’ve realized that this time is coming to an end. Soon.
A week ago, when I whined to my son about traffic and the fact that the fuel light was on yet again, he said, “Don’t worry, Mom, by spring, I’ll be able to drive myself to these.”
Yes, in theory, I’d known this was coming, but hearing it aloud hit me with the startling impact of a suddenly deployed airbag.
My Days of Chauffeuring
My days of chauffeuring this kid are nearly over. In less than four months, he’ll (hopefully) get his driver’s license. I suppose it’s like anything else in that the closer you get to the finish line — the end point — you think to yourself, “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”
But it’s more than that. Over the last few months I’ve started to enjoy our long rides together— traffic jams and exorbitant gas prices aside. Because we have a rule when we drive together: “Mom’s not your Uber driver,” unless we’re hopelessly lost, both our phones are off. We’re a captive audience for each other. He’s not rushing to his X-box or to watch baseball, and I’m not distracted by work email.
Something else has happened. Our conversations have become about our interests, our goals, and our mutual hope of bettering ourselves. Here’s a recent example:
After practice one evening, my son got in the car, head down, shoulders drooping.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“Not great,” he said. “If I throw fast, I lose accuracy. If I’m accurate, the ball’s barely moving.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“Keep practicing,” he said.
We drove in silence for a few minutes before he asked, “So, did you get a lot of work done?”
“I did,” I responded, “but you know that satirical essay I wrote about school supplies? It was rejected. I just got the email.”
“Ouch!” He clutched his chest as if wounded on my behalf, making me smile. “Their loss.”
Spending Time With my Son in the Car
In these moments, our disappointments are made easier to bear because they’re shared. I think about that cliché: “It isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.” Maybe in driving to and from all these practices we’ve actually arrived somewhere else: a place where we have a better understanding of each other and ourselves: our similarities, our strengths, our weaknesses.
These rides haven’t been just about getting from Point A to Point B. They’ve taken us to the heart of things for the better or worse — the moment the pitch sails perfectly over the plate or the essay is accepted, and those crushing defeats when nothing goes our way.
And I realize something else. He’ll probably never pitch for his beloved Mets just as it’s unlikely I’ll ever win a Pulitzer, but that doesn’t mean either of us will or should give up. We are striving separately and together. We aren’t quitters no matter how rough the ride might be.
When he’s driving himself to practice, I know I’ll be home worrying, “Is he using the mirrors while merging? Does he really understand how dangerous it is to text and drive?”
Then, looking just beyond that, he’ll be gone. College. And I won’t know what he’s up to from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday nights. He’ll have successes and setbacks, and I won’t be waiting in the car to share in them. And, that’s natural and part of growing up. But I’ve decided to savor these drives while I can because I know somewhere in the not-so-distant future I’ll wish I could trade a 6 p.m. dinner for the chance to travel these roads with him again.