Monday, August 1, 2011

Driving Miss Ginger

On a recent visit to stay with my oldest son, I had the lovely experience of sitting in the passenger seat.  (Hold that thought; it seems to be a metaphor for this stage of motherhood, and it’s not quite as lovely as I would like.)  I sat in the passenger seat; I would like to imagine I sat demurely, as a revered and respected “elder”, comparatively speaking.  But that would not be accurate.  Of course, I had my trusted sidekick, lets just call him “Peanut” egging me on, or at least supporting me from the back seat.  The driver, the truly, or at least, at times, revered and respected first born was driving, very nicely I might add.  He drove us to City Park, a beautiful park in New Orleans where we were planning to picnic so that we might enjoy the cooler evening air.  Cooler evening air in New Orleans in late July means, 92° and humid as opposed to 95° and humid. In any event the New York heat wave with temperatures holding at 105° that we left behind made the hot humid weather at least seem that much more enjoyable (or not).  As we drove past pedestrians, sculptures, beautiful oaks dripping with Spanish moss, cypress trees and various palms and palmettos, the driver pulled over to park. 

"Peanut" and I were immediately unsettled.  We didn’t understand the parking choice.  There were clearly parking lots ahead in the visible distance and some that we had passed only briefly.  Why park in this more isolated section?  We were searching for a pavilion for our cool-er evening picnic.  There was a pavilion close by, but it seemed darkened and abandoned.  There were three police cars and a mounted officer across the median.  Didn’t this alert the driver?  We, "Peanut" and I, started wondering aloud, asking, questioning as only passengers can. 

There is an art in this passenger questioning type thing.  It is an art form in the best of worlds, or worst depending on where you're sitting.  The passenger aspect applies to transportation as well as the journey through life.  The passenger could also just as easily be accompanying someone to a grocery store, restaurant, or into the living room.  It’s not nearly as much to do with driving as it is learning to take  a back seat or diminished role.  Or quite frankly, it is usually about the downright refusal to take a back seat or diminished role.

Said passenger starts off with some degree of unease, which closely resembles disapproval, but can easily be dismissed or denied if said passenger is an artist in this milieu.  (Hah! “Milieu” isn’t that a fine piece of fanciness and frill, perfect to stress the art form idea!)  The unease moves into question form: “Do you think it’s ok to park here?”  In this form of questioning, the passenger gives respect to the driver.  The driver must surely know what they have done, right?  He, in this case, made a concerted choice to park the car in this very spot.  You can’t go in strong or direct, remember you, or I, in this case, am merely the passenger.  I couldn’t say, “OK, let’s just stop a moment and size up our surroundings shall we?  First of all, we are in a city, an inner city, with documented high rates of crime (if not always publicly reported) and well-known, rather infamous, corrupted and miss-managed police protection that is weakly patrolling this city.  Secondly, we are parked in a dark, abandoned, or at the very least fairly isolated section of a very large park.  Last of all, in my 30 second checkpoint system, police activity nearby in this weakly patrolled city leads me to believe this would not be a good place to park.”  I couldn’t say, “How is it that all my years of parenting has lead us to this dreadful scenario in which you are willing to risk your own life and that of your sainted and gifted mother and what about your sweet little baby brother, "Peanut"?”

The driver responds to the question that was posed, not the question that lies thickly beneath.  Deadpan. Waiting for this opportunity without fully knowing it, his whole sweet life.  Bingo!  Expecting it and savoring it in the drollest of ways.  This is a moment in life of great transformative power.  This is a rite of passage of ritualistic magnitude seldom discussed in anthropologic or psychological journals.  The driver must place the question squarely back in the passengers lap.  If done correctly, the passenger may get what they need in the moment, but the moment is transformative.  In this very moment, power shifts, the driver once dependent upon the passenger, becomes independent and capable.  The action, if handled well, completes a phase of development never to be visited again.  It goes like this:

 “I think it would be ok to park here, there is a pavilion right there, would you feel better if we found a different spot?”   

The driver can’t say:  “OK, I know that you somehow believe I am incapable of growing up and possibly surviving a picnic without your years of experience and wisdom to help guide and/or control my every move but before you came here for this “visit”, I have actually functioned and survived rather nicely, thank you very much!  If parking here for a 20 minute picnic is going to get your panties all bunched up in a knot and cause great levels of stress and agitation, I will surely move the car 400 yards to that safe haven of parking you alone seem to be able to see and know about and be safe in. ” 

Without saying any of this the driver has made me fully aware that for all the wisdom and knowledge that I have packed into this super sized vessel called “Mom”, I no longer get to call the shots, hold the keys, or decide which way to turn and where to park.  It happens in an instant.  I can see clearly this very transformative moment in my own past, which sadly seems like it just happened.  I can call it up and see my very parents as they visited me in a new city and knew better how to park, get to a restaurant, guide and steer me almost no more.   I can recall easily a minor eye roll, a droll response, a "glad to see them, glad to see them go back home" recollection of my own. 

“Peanut” on the other hand, still needs me to get him back to the airport at the end of our trip, back to his lovingly patrolled home, over to the Department of Motor Vehicles for his learner’s permit on his next day off and safely to a few more destinations before he takes me on a little picnic of sorts.  So for now, he supports, he adds to my earlier commentary or questioning.  He supports my wisdom.   “C’mon, dude, look around, this is definitely not the best place to park. “   When we get back in the car and drive to my happy safe parking spot, I am quieted by the experience.  I am wondering if I had just kept my flap shut, would I have extended this little fantasy of being “in control” a wee bit longer? 

As we approach a beautiful garden with a small pond and adequate parking, I can’t help but say, “Here, we go! This is much better.”  The driver remains quiet but smiles.  He seems to know who’s in the driver’s seat now, finally.  We get out and walk towards the water’s edge.  “Peanut” stands next to the driver, pats him on the back, roughly, brotherly.  He stands about an inch or two shorter with great confidence that he is still growing.  Soon he will also be driving.  Miss Daisy was a passenger with power.   Maybe I can work on my passenger persona.  See, growth never really has to end.  Soon I will be driving myself anywhich way I want to go, but I will be visiting "Peanut" and his wise siblings frequently.  Sometimes I might remember to control that old flap trap, but I'm not making any promises just yet.  I will soon enough need to be sized with a booster seat and I practically drive with my knees touching the accelerator or the hood release.   I've also never been a very good passenger, I am much more the participant.

[P.S. and of special note:  The above mentioned driver drove quite spectacularly over Route 10, a massive skyway type driving nightmare that hugs and crosses the Mississippi River, meanders towards Biloxi and lead us to Alabama.  He drove us calmly along the Gulf Coast and helped add three states to my travel belt, I remained mostly quiet and appreciative, I think.]

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