The last carpool

by Debbie Carini

I think I just gave my son the best-ever ride to school. It involved fast food, soda, candy, unlimited control of music selection and free Continental breakfast! And, at the end of the ride, he got to keep the car.

Unlike the daily jaunts to his grammar school that used to involve a three-block limousine-like experience (“Would you like me to help you carry your backpack, sir?” or “Will you be finishing that Pop-Tart or should I expect to find it under the seat later this week?”), this was a journey of epic proportions—a little over 1,000 miles—involving approximately four rest stops, two trips to Target, one excursion to Ikea, and several hours of wondering who in the Netherlands translates Swedish directions into English.

My son was returning to the Seattle area, where he will be a junior at the University of Puget Sound in September, to work at a summer internship for a life insurance and financial services corporation. He moved into the house where he’ll be living for the year.

First, the drive.

We left in the family station wagon, an ark-like vehicle in which my husband and I felt our son would enjoy relative safety. As we pulled onto the major north-south artery through the Pacific states, I recalled my own years of family travel in a similar car, facing backwards, watching the “World’s Largest, Greatest,” whatever go by from the third-row seat.

This time I was co-piloting with complete control over pit stops and temperature regulation. My son was DJ-ing—jazz and Frank Sinatra—some I could sing-along with, and some, much to my son’s great relief, I could not. Our first break was for cheeseburgers, fries and shakes. The meals only deviated from that point on by supposed country of origin, though I doubt those of Hispanic heritage would claim the “waffle taco” or Italians, the “ham, bacon and pineapple pan pizza.”

Second, the house.

What can one say about a lovely old Craftsman-style cottage that’s been taken-over by college-aged young men? Yuck comes first to mind.

We purchased a futon, the assembly of which provided bonding time I can only compare to the intense work of finishing a science fair project at 2 a.m. on the morning it is due (and running out of glue stick). My son was incredulous that the small hex-wrench was all we required to turn the flat-pack box into a piece of furniture. I was in denial that, in order to finish the project, I would have to spend considerable time kneeling on the questionably-matted shag carpet in his new room. 

Like Cinderella, my time was short, and before I knew it, my son was delivering me to the airport. My return trip would be two hours instead of two days and I was on my own. My son was in his big boy pants, ready for his first day of work.

As I buckled-up for take-off, I thought about the small boy whose stick-like legs once dangled over the piano bench as he first learned to plunk the scales and the fine young man who’d just kissed me on the cheek and said, “I wish you could have stayed longer.”

How lucky I’ve been to share this journey with him, and how much I look forward to seeing where his dreams and ambitions take him. 



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