Long before there were babies to nurse and sweet toddler hands to hold, my husband and I were public transit commuters. We huddled under the bus stop signs, scarves wrapped cheek-high, toes tingling as we shuffled in place until the overcrowded bus lumbered into view. Other mornings and evenings saw us whirled like leaves into the Metro alternately sweltering in the heat of Montreal summers and blowing into our hands during the coldest winters. Those in-between hours getting to and from unfulfilling jobs feel like years lost to me; dreaming sleepily of better positions, better pay, better apartments. We were so young, cocooned in the poorly lit, ill-ventilated mass transit systems of Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria, discussing the latest Slate article or the arrival of that new Facebook thing. Travelling to and fro was just that, lost time, spaces between significant events.
We didn’t own a car for years after that, and even now as I pile the kids into the car for ballet, swimming and grocery shopping, I am grateful every single time. Inside our often messy, usually smelly car I have experienced parenting moments that range from shining triumph to humiliating low. I have been that mother with the sweaty cheeks and raised voice, near tears while leaving the scene of the grocery store debacle, and I have also been that mother with my heart in my mouth, awed beyond words at the precious cargo I chauffeur hither and yon. It is not just the convenience of coming and going at will that I feel grateful for, but the discovery I made not long after we took possession of our first car; inside that collection of metal, rubber and glass I travel in a bubble with my most favourite people.
Pulling onto the highway, the early morning sun warms my face at the window and my hands on the wheel, I feel my husband beside me, usually sipping the first of many coffees. He presses play and one of our favourite songs fills the speakers, the kids joke in the backseat, eager to begin our adventure. At that moment I have such a profound sense of contentment, of utter peace – there are no people in the world I would rather be with, and we are cocooned together, whirling along past legions of pine and alder trees, across bridged rivers, toward the rising shoulders of craggy, grey mountains. Here are we four, here are bones and sinews of steel holding my heart outside my chest, ferrying my whole world to the next chapter of our adventures. In all likelihood the backseat will quickly erupt in some kind of bickering about spilled drinks, or lost pencils, or whose turn it is to read what book. Sometimes my love and I drive in stony silence or lose our patience with each other and the kids, but that underlying gratitude remains; these are my people and for these minutes or hours we are a land unto ourselves. Our essential closeness, sometimes lost in the daily bustle, is reaffirmed.
I remember bringing our shetland pony home in my parents’ blue VW Westie, and the way the pleather seats in our gold-toned Citation burned the backs of my legs in the summer heat, the way my sister and I never seemed to have enough room from each other on family road trips, the way we rattled along dirt logging roads en route to the perfect camping spot. I remember these things, and wonder what will my two remember of our car travels? Will they remember the first day we drove Violet, named after their then-favourite mystery series, will they remember falling asleep in their car seats heads lolled back, eyelashes fanned like dark feathers against their warm cheeks, will they remember the trips to Opa’s farm in the heat of Quebec summers, or the way the wheels thudded as we rolled over the railway crossing just before his house? Will they remember the car deck of the ferry and the way the ocean smells in the middle of the Inside Passage, or the way we almost always spot a rainbow on our way back home, hanging like a benediction over our weary travellers’ heads. I hope they remember it all; the happy and hilarious moments along with the sadness and strife. Most of all, I hope they remember that we did it all together.