The beginning of summer in Michigan usually looks like a messy combination of rain, subsequent humidity, flooding, and more rain. My son and I spend most of our days strolling on the hot pavement one moment, only to find ourselves racing to the car through heavy torrents moments later. It’s this back-and-forth game that makes Michigan beautifully temperamental. My state is not for the faint of heart.
Last week we were on our way home from visiting my mother when a few raindrops landed gently on the windshield.
Then a few more.
And more still.
Within minutes the individual soft specks were lost in what appeared to be one large sheet of gray, on a gray land, under a graying sky. My son, who had been squealing happily in his car seat behind me, started to fuss as the sky grew dark. Aside from the off-beats of highway tunnels, he does not do well with darkness.
“It’s okay, honey,” I called back to him. “We will be home soon.”
We would be home soon.
And as daytime quickly came to a close, there would be a lot to do when we got there. I found myself going through that list in my head – you know, the running list that all new moms keep of the things they need to do to prepare for bedtime. In our case, our list included feeding him, bathing him (if time and energy levels allowed), changing him, getting him dressed, entertaining him a bit (but not too much), snuggling him, holding him as he fell asleep, rocking him when he stirred – lather, rinse, and repeat. I ran over this list a few times, tweaking it and adding to it, as the stoplights grew blurry before me.
Suddenly the combination of darkness and a pure mass of water obstructed my vision in a way that demanded my full attention. I squinted to find the white lines on either side of me, but they seemed to float away. I slowed down enormously while the red Dodge Stratus in front of me maintained its confident speed. It inched away from me like a lifeboat that hadn’t heard my call. “A Dodge Stratus was her only hope,” I read the headline for the next day’s news aloud to myself as I putted along.
My son started to cry in the back seat as if he sensed my tension immediately. He reminded me that I wasn’t lost at sea alone after all and that my fellow swimmer saw me as his lifeboat.
“Holy cow,” I snapped myself out of it. “Everything’s fine, sweetheart,” I called back to him, nearly yelling over his cries. “Just a little farther!”
I felt myself officially losing control of the situation and began to panic.
So as soon as I saw an opportunity, I turned off of the main road and onto a quieter neighborhood street, where I would hopefully at least be able to navigate without anyone else putting pressure on me. But the once soothing rain became more raucous still, and my son’s cry mimicked its strength.
I knew I had to pull over to calm us both down. I parked on the street side and reached back into my son’s car seat. My shaking hand grabbed his and I sang to him softly. I couldn’t help but feel down on myself for not being able to get us home safely without tears.
My mind brought me back suddenly to my childhood when I used to sit in the backseat while my mother drove through those same Michigan showers of the past. I remembered the initial scare of those downpours, and how I would alternate between staring wide-eyed through my window and peeking over her shoulder and out the windshield onto the streets ahead. More than the rain on the glass, I remembered seeing my mother’s face in the rearview mirror above it. She stared forward with intensity and focus, but without even the slightest sign of fear in her entire being. I could almost see her firm, composed figure in my mind at that moment.
As soon as I saw that strength in my mother, my childhood self stopped being afraid as well.
I realized that there was, in fact, nothing to fear, and quickly forgot all about it. I would smile to myself, relax into the leather seat (this was back before car seats were required), and welcome the rain as it fell hard on the roof. Nine times out of ten I would even lean my head up against the plastic siding on the door, stare at the darkness ahead of me, listen to that now soothing sound of rain, and fall asleep.
My adult self-realized then that, while my mom appeared so collected back then, she almost certainly felt at least a hint of fear on those stormy drives. More than likely, she couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of her, the streetlights were blurring all around her, and she was checking her brakes like a mad woman. She was lost at sea without a lifeboat. I knew then that in that car on that day many years ago, there was a good chance that my mother was terrified out of her mind.
But somehow, her calm in the midst of the storm transformed the storm itself from something terrifying to something manageable, and then, magically, to something altogether soothing.
“I love you so much,” I called to my son presently, over and over, and pulled back onto the road before me, visible now under a shallow sea. His cry died down.
See, so many parts of parenting are downright terrifying.
Weather conditions aside, the job begins and ends with things we’ve never done before, from actually giving birth, to letting go of our son or daughter as they take on life for themselves, and every blurry and shaky-handed step along the way. The whole thing is crazy and beautiful, yes, but it’s also the scariest thing any of us will ever do in our entire lives.
But afraid as we may be, we are the ones in charge. That is, after all, why they hand the baby to us when they come out. So we suck it up, we focus hard, and we put on a calm face. We take care of these fragile little creatures, and we love them so ceaselessly and entirely that even everyday occurrences make us feel lost at sea to maintain strength. And being the ones they trust most in the entire world, we have the unique opportunity to transform their fear into safety. Much of the time, we then lose our fear along the way.
Eventually, we even let them drive their own cars because we are all nuts. And that’s just the way it is.
I turned onto our street through thinning puddles along white lines. The streetlights lit up the road before me and my eyes relaxed in their clarity.
“I love you so much,” I continued in a whisper.
His soft sounds were few and far between.
I leaped out of the car and onto dry land. I ran around to grab an umbrella from the trunk. I opened it up, opened the back door, and reached quickly into the back seat. I lifted my son up and out of his car seat base – out of the shadow and into my arms. I grabbed the blanket from the seat next to him and unfolded it delicately.
As I started to lay the blanket over his little toes, I saw that they weren’t kicking frantically as they had been just moments before. I pulled the blanket up over his tiny body and then noticed his beautiful face under the streetlight. He was nestled there with his dry head up against the side of the car seat. And he was fast asleep.