It’s a sixteen hour car ride from Mount Prospect, Illinois to Bridgehampton, New York and the longest amount of time Ma and I have ever spent alone together.
As we barreled through Ohio’s flatlands, in the sweet spot between the four am Chicago departure and our harried Hampton’s arrival, the situation hit me. We were on a road trip and a two person road trip was, by a definition I compiled from old movies and childhood fantasies, where you “got deep” and “shared moments.”
So, if all road trips with only two people produce Shared Moments and I was on a road trip with only my mother, then my mother and I were going to…Share a Moment.
With my mother.
A woman who grew up in a very Irish-Catholic household and who, in turn, raised us in one. Where the Italians teach you how to bottle wine and oil, the Irish show you how to cork your emotions and bury those suckers deep. This is a woman who called me a week before college graduation to tell me they might not make it to New York after all.
Me: Oh my god, what happened? I’m googling flights home right now.
Ma: Jesus, Elizabeth; stop being dramatic. American Idol’s people called saying Capannari’s (their ice cream business) is one of Lee’s stops for his Homecoming Day on the show next week. We have be here to support to him and the community.
Me (making a mental note to repeatedly vote against Mr. DeWyze): Great. Quick thought. Let’s keep our support for him as one option and then the other could be you and Dad showing your support for YOUR OLDEST DAUGHTER GRADUATING.
Ma (tired and over my emotional blabbering): Seriously, you’re walking across a stage in a black gown. Dad’s going to T.J. Maxx later, he’ll pick you up a robe and you can walk across the porch when you get home. I’ll call you when I know more.
Yet here we were about to Share a Moment while driving halfway across the country in a car with no working sound system, rearview mirror, or road approved oil filter. Life was good.
The fresh knowledge that I was going to have an emotional connection with my mother only added to the surmounting anxiety of moving back to the Hamptons to restart my old nanny job. I had been covering for my replacement a couple weeks before when Mr. and Mrs. Hampton cornered me in Starbucks to ask if I would come back for good.
Mr. Hampton: The new girl really isn’t working out. The kids need you.
Alright, let’s reel in the emotional spewing, Mr. H. Kid’s are fine, you guys are fine. No need for dramatics.
I told them I’d think about it, but knew there was nothing that could bring me back to life out here.
I had initially left because I had been miserable on a social level. It was two years of working without a single friend over the age of six, of being engulfed in a world I did not always understand, and of attending library book clubs only to realize I wasn’t even cool enough for the geriatric crew.
Book Club Leader (presumably for the last 130 years): Should Lurie have lost everything for sleeping with Melanie? Does the generational gap produce disconnect of the mating ritual and experience?
All eyes zero in on me, the only member of any other generation. Irish-Catholic tradition has also instilled a firm understanding that sex is a notion we suppress discussing, confirming we understand, or acknowledging exists in any way, shape, or form. My chin retreats into my neck and I convince myself if I don’t move they’ll get bored and move the discussion forward.
They keep staring with that level of patience all letter senders seem to possess.
Me (forgetting how to breath and talk at the same time I answer/exhale as one): We’re hooked on the social media and don’t know how to actually communicate.
Da fruck was that?! Was that an answer? Did you just site porn as your generation’s understanding of sex or were you trying to justify why you’re such a f*$&ing newb?
Wrinkles McGee, ninety-four if memory serves, smiled sweetly as if she wished she could offer me a peppermint and a pair of balls.
As we entered the labyrinth of Pennsylvania hills, I make a mental note to become better at talking about sex. Then, in that beautiful, cosmic way they do, ideas collided and my heart started to throw it’s fists against my chest; Share the Moment!
Could this be it? If I ask my mother how to talk to old Hamptonites about doin’ the dirty will she respond with parental wisdom and motherly advice?! Will we laugh and bond over my social anxieties?
My throat starts to close in on itself and I can feel all of my nerve endings explode like a million fireworks lit under the surface of my skin. My brain starts to swell against my skull and I can’t determine if I’m going to throw-up from fear or pure excitement.
I look over to see if my mother can feel the building energy. She’s studying her céilidh dance moves off handwritten index cards and I catch a glint in the corner of her eye. I knew it. She knows we are about to jump to a brand new, shiny level of mother-daughter bonding. I go to open my mouth and recall the talking/breathing predicament that comes with these situations.
Seriously, where in a sentence do you inhale?
::Deep Breath In::
“So,” I say in my best attempt at casual conversation ::Exhale::Inhale:: “There’s this book club…” ::Exhale::Inhale:: “in Bridgehampton.”
She looks up half concerned, half annoyed at my post-marathon breathing.
“What’s wrong with you?”
The fireworks are now breaking through my skin and if I look down at my hands white-knuckling the wheel all I will see is blood, fire, and bone. From inside my skull, my brain screaming to give up the attempts for words, it’s just not worth the loss in oxygen.
Do not say another thing.
I go to nod my head and think of Wrinkles McGee sitting there with a little box and a peppermint tied on top. Sorry, brain.
I attempt to talk faster. “There’s this book club.” ::Inhale::Exhale:: “And I went to it.” ::Inhale::Exhale:: “To make friends. And there were..” ::Exhale:: “these cool” ::Exhale:: Inhale, idiot! Inhale! “women in it.” ::Exh…
The edges of the car are starting to become consumed by darkness and I fight to focus on the road. Finally, ::Inhale.::
Why isn’t she helping me? I know she knows there is a Moment to be Shared here! By the laws of road trips everywhere we will Share a god-damn Moment and we will cherish it for the rest of our lives.
Her eyebrows raise up and she shrugs as her inner thoughts rise like steam from her huge Irish head. Firstborns are trial runs. We’ll get the other three right.
I’m done. I’m sorry, Beatrice and Ethel, or whatever your 1900’s names are. We aren’t going to vineyard hop together or eat dinner at four after long days of antiquing and gossiping about sexual encounters.
I steady my breath and focus all my energies to the road. Ma pulls out her iPhone and a set of portable speakers to which we listen to six months worth of ‘Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me,’ while watching America rolled over the windshield.
The morning after Mr. and Mrs. Hampton cornered me in Starbucks, I went upstairs to make breakfast for the four year-old who I could hear already kicking the leg of his breakfast chair. He was sitting at the table in his J. Crew pajama set looking like he should be on the cover of GQ Child. He’d never done that before, sit patiently. He’d always come down to cuddled for a bit or shove his tiny fingers up my nose to get me moving before going up to make breakfast together.
Me: Hey, Bud. No love today?!
He sat there serious, staring down at his placemat, trying to figure out where in the sentence to inhale. Finally, he looked me straight in the eye and said:
Izzy, please don’t ever leave me again.
Shared Moments, deep emotional connections, don’t always hit each member of the experience at the same time. Sometimes you’re the adult looking into a four year-old’s worried face, realizing it takes a single moment to convince you to travel halfway across the country if the kids you love need you. Sometimes you’re the child sitting at her desk, years later, only just realizing someone’s had done the same for you. No working sound system, rearview mirror, or unnecessary feelings needed.