I grew up 7 miles north of the nearest small town. Describing how to get to my family’s home, we used to say “Go past the elementary school for exactly six miles, then you’ll see a bright blue house and a bright yellow house — looks like you’ve reached Sesame Street — turn right. Drive for one more mile and you’ll arrive.” My road was dead-end and didn’t bear the typical “Street” or “Drive” at the end of the address. We lived in a “coulee” — a term applied to a kind of valley, derived from the French word couler meaning “to flow.”
Those 7 miles would take me barely to the outskirts of my hometown. To get anywhere meaningful was a longer drive. 20 minutes to get to my elementary school. 12 minutes to get to my high school (I knew exactly how long that drive was). At least 20 minutes to get to any reasonable shopping. At least 30 minutes to get into the larger city of La Crosse, Wisconsin with even more options.
In short, I spent a lot of time in the car growing up. I never knew what it was like to have access to anything only “five minutes away.” Even getting together with friends required coordination and being dropped off somewhere “in town.” My mom wanted to make sure that my siblings and I had access to anything that the other kids did, rather than feeling isolated, so she was always willing to drive us anywhere.
During the first six months of my marriage, I lived in Topeka, Kansas and my husband was still in La Crosse. Every other weekend, I drove 8 hours in each direction to see him, completing four hours on Friday evening after work and stopping in Des Moines to sleep. I would continue the remaining four hours on Saturday morning. This would give us approximately 24 hours together and I would leave Sunday around noon and drive the entire 8 hours back to Kansas.
Then I began work as a remote employee and my husband and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. Anyone from the area knows that the Beltline is brutal. We first lived on the far West Side, meaning a long drive to the central part of the city and even further to get to the East Side.
After a few years there, we moved to a suburb of Chicago, where we currently live. Chicago suburbs are a never-ending cycle of traffic. I always assume that it will take me 30–45 minutes to get anywhere.
So far this morning, I drove my one-year-old daughter to day care and back. During the summer, the traffic was a bit lighter so the round-trip including dropoff was about 45–50 minutes. Now that school is back in session, it will likely be closer to an hour. I spent one glorious year where my two older kids were both in elementary school (hooray for the bus), and my daughter was at home with a nanny. Since I work from home, that meant no daily driving routine.
But what I found during that year was that I was missing a very important component of my days, one that I didn’t even realize I had been enjoying for most of my life, until it was absent.
The time in the car was time to myself.
I would listen to a shuffle of music that I had created, or — more often — an audiobook. Going back to the days when I was driving back and forth to Kansas, and also traveling frequently for work, I had audiobooks on CDs and kept a large stash in the car. Once Audible emerged, I was always in the middle of a book, of all types of genres. I became very particular about the narrator and found that it influenced how much I enjoyed the book.
For a long time, reading has been challenging. With young children, I was often so tired at the end of the day that I couldn’t sit down and read a physical book, or my Kindle. I would fall asleep. But I was still experiencing books through my daily audio listen on the drive to and from day care.
There were even days when I sat in complete silence in the car, just collecting my thoughts.
Adding the drive to day care back into my routine in June, I immediately picked up my habit of audiobooks again. And it has been wonderful. I have plowed through several over the past few months, and eagerly added new books to my Audible account.
I have always been a very routine-driven person, and driving has been a part of my life for so long. When I describe the amount of driving that I do to people who live outside of Chicagoland, the response is always “That’s insane. It only takes me five minutes to get to the grocery store.”
I always respond “I really don’t mind. I’m used to it.”
To read the writing that I do about pregnancy loss and grief, you can head over to my blog, Grieving Out Loud.