Martorella: Wheels

“Honey, what if we just sold our cars and just used Uber?” my husband innocently asked. I stopped in my tracks and gave him my best “Watchu talking about Willis?” face. He may as well have been asking me to walk to the moon.

I know a mom in a neighboring town who navigates with her children from childcare providers to schools to work and back again every day on public transportation. That’s HOURS of daily travel with kids without even leaving their town. Not me. I can’t imagine living this suburban parenting life without a car.

My car is like a second home, and stocked for almost every emergency. Kids say, “Mom, I want to color!” I say, “Here are some crayons and a notepad!” They say, “Mom, I need a bandaid!” I say, “In the glove compartment!”  They say, “I’m hungry!, I’m thirsty!, “I’m sad!” I say, “Snack, juice box, lollipop!” When they fight about loud videos or game play, I have “Headphones for everyone!!” If we decide on an impromptu ride to the beach, we have towels, sunblock, and beach toys at the ready. There’s an outdoor blanket for emergency seating at sports or school events, and a yoga mat just in case I get inspired. Napkins, lotion, bug spray, sunglasses, pens, coins, maps, puzzle books, scissors, chargers! I dare you to ask for something my trusty steed cannot provide!

It is clear that for my Uber-curious husband, the car is purely a means for transport. When the family rides in my husband’s car, it’s kind of like a game of Survivor. They say, “Mom! I have a cut!” I say, “Maybe you can make a bandaid from that crumpled gas receipt?” They complain, “I’m bored!” I point out a broken pencil and a business card and say, “Um, draw a really small picture?” They cry, “Mom! I’m hungry.”

I say, “I think this might be a mint from that restaurant we went to last month….”

Without any car at all, well, I’m just lost.  “Everybody fend for yourselves!!”

My mother didn’t drive. She raised six children in Darien for the entirety of my childhood and managed through years of parenthood in other towns before that. Though my father and siblings helped when they could, for the bulk of my childhood, I walked, rode my bike, or carpooled.

It seems like this was easier those few decades ago (like so much else). It was common to see kids walking or biking around town, and our free time was spent more in our neighborhoods than in scheduled activities. My house was in walking distance of the elementary school, church, convenience store, YMCA, and even the beach (especially if we cut through neighbors’ yards). It was a longer walk to middle school, but a reasonable bike ride. I didn’t even qualify for a school bus until high school (when my home was finally more than a mile from the school).   

Back then, most sports were held at or through the schools — intramurals in elementary school, team sports starting in middle school (which then numbered two). We played against each other and bussed to out-of-town opponents, so parents only had to arrange for a ride home from the school after the game. Unless of course, their children had walked or ridden there in the morning and went back the way they came.

Now the average family has multiple children going to multiple locations across multiple towns for sports, arts, music, and academic programs daily. Though the school bus stops at every corner, the drop-off and pickup line at each school is around the block. Most moms I know mention “chauffeur” as a primary element of their job description, and stock their vehicles with a supply of books or apps that can entertain them while they wait. We balance our checkbooks in the car. We organize our files in the car. We catch up on phone calls and make our appointments in the car.

There was a chance I would be without a car for two days last week and the idea left me a little frantic as my mind raced: “How will I get to work? How will I escape for lunch? How will I get my children out of the house?  I will have to ask for rides from colleagues and babysitters! I will be on other people’s schedules! I will have to give up my freedom!” Breathe, Rebecca, breathe…..

So sorry Uber. I think it’s going to be a while before you get much income from us.

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