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The Commute

Fri, May 18th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, May 21, 2001

Commuting any distance to work in Minnesota is an "iffy" proposition. Add to that being the parent of small children, and you are dancing on the edge of a sharp knife daily.

There are any number of variables each day that could throw you into a tail-spin. It seems to me these potential disasters fall under three general categories: illness, weather, mechanical malfunction.

My car, an eight-year-old front wheel drive, made it through all combinations of weather this past winter, only to be side-lined in March by a leaky oil gasket. That leak caused the engine to "freeze up." A new engine was in my and my Visa card’s future. But that wasn’t my biggest concern.

The "permanent stall" happened on a Saturday, and I spent the next 48 hours worrying about—Monday Morning. It wasn’t that we had no car. My husband’s car was functioning fine. His car, which I secretly refer to as "The Beast", has lots of miles, lots of "character”, but it runs.

Monday Morning. Four people going four different places. One car.

By 4:00 a.m. Monday, I’d hatched a plan that I was pretty sure would work. We would all get into my husband’s car at 7:15 with our respective "gear" for the day: heavy winter-wear for my husband who will most likely be working outside; the signed "Friday Folder", overdue library book and pet ladybug (show and tell) for my daughter; a pack of one hundred forty four diapers for my son; and the folder of freshman composition papers I didn’t finish grading.

Like many famous athletes, most mothers I know use "visualization" in their drive toward greatness. I visualized myself Monday morning making use of my favorite household gadget, my crockpot. I’ve collected recipes, all of them remarkably similar. You throw in some type of protein, a pasta, at least one can of soup (undiluted), hit the switch, and eight hours later—wow! Hot supper! It’s the closest I ever come to "magic" in the kitchen.

So the next morning, things went pretty much as planned. As I bent to hit the switch on the crockpot on my way out the door, I felt a funny pain in my chest. I was pretty sure it was indigestion from all the coffee I’d had, but I stopped by the medicine cabinet and popped a couple of aspirin before leaving, just in case it was my heart. (And my mom thinks I don’t take care of my health!)

My husband was dropped off at work 30 seconds early. Child One was deposited cheerfully at kindergarten, and then it was just my two-year-old son and me in the car. I let out a sigh. Checking my watch, I noticed that I’d be able to take him to daycare and launch myself to Rochester almost on time.

He turned to me with an air of someone who needs to say something.

"Mickey! Here’s—a pie!"

The sound of words coming from his mouth still surprised me. He was new to the world of language, having just recently given up an impressive repetoire of grunts and shrieks that usually succeeded in communicating his needs to the rest of us. But now he was starting to communicate in that uniquely human form: words.

"A pie?" I questioned.

He looked stricken and said desparately, "Mickey! ‘Ere’s-- a Pie!"

Suddenly nothing I’d done yet that morning seemed as important as understanding what he wanted to tell me. A pie? Did he even know what a pie was?

He gave a grunt of frustration, his eyes still on my face.

"Honey, I don’t—" I began. Then I noticed he was holding something. Two black plastic ears stuck out from his clenched fist. Mouse ears, from the little Disney figurine. Ears.

"Oh!" I cried. "Ears? Mickey’s ears up high? High on his head? You’re right! Mickey’s ears are up high!"

He smiled at me. Then he popped his thumb in his mouth, settled back in his car seat, and gazed contentedly out the window, pleased at himself for having communicated effectively.

Fifteen minutes later, I merged onto I-90 and entered the stream of worker ants heading to the big city. "The Beast" shook with the effort of freeway speed. I flipped on the radio, which my husband had tuned to an oldies station. An old favorite was just starting: Ike and Tina Turner’s version of "Proud Mary."

"We never do anything nice and easy," Tina purred.

I turned the radio up and sang along. Tina had a point. "Nice and Easy" sounded like a good name for a hair color, but as a lifestyle, it would be boring.

Bonnie Prinsen

Bonnie Prinsen of Rushford is a regular contributor to the Journal. In real life she teaches English Composition at RCTC.

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