On the third day of Christmas, I realized where I got my trust issues.
It was a girls’ night out – just Mom, my three sisters and me. Mom had gotten us tickets to see “A Christmas Carol” up on the campus of Princeton University at a place called McCarter Theater. We were having dinner first. But Mom had never been there and really wasn’t sure about directions. Her computer was giving her trouble.
Enter trust issues.
Mom had fretted about the directions since before we got in the car. I had told her we could use the navigator on my phone, no problem. She wanted me to look up the directions that way 30 minutes before we left. And I would have, just to put her at ease, but I didn’t have my charger and I didn’t want to run down the battery too soon. My phone gives turn-by-turn directions and directions in list form, but I had figured turn-by-turn might be better if she found herself anxious in an unfamiliar area. Still, even in the car, as I tapped in the address on my phone, Mom was impatient. “I want to take Route 1,” she said.
“Okay,” I said as I plugged in the information.
“Well, where does it say to go?”
“Well just get on Route 1 and we’ll go from there.”
The tires nearly screeched as she slammed on the brakes. In the middle of a populated road. “I’m not going any farther until I know where I’m going!”
“Mom,” from both myself and Sister 3, in the backseat. She’d nearly been thrown into the windshield.
I knew that explaining to my mom that the phone would give live directions from wherever we were, so that it was literally impossible to get lost, would only make her feel like I was talking down to her. It was enough that I had told her she has a navigation system on her iPhone. “It’s not hooked up,” she had replied, and I had had to keep myself from telling her it doesn’t need to be.
“Just get on Route 1,” I said again.
There was much second-guessing of the Google navigation on my phone, which has never erred. “Route 1 splits. It goes to New York or it stays in New Jersey. Which one does it say to take?”
I have to edit myself a lot around my mother. I didn’t say, “Well… we’re in New Jersey and we’re staying in New Jersey…” I said, “You’ve got it right. Just stay here.”
“This says Bank Street. I thought we were supposed to be on University.”
“It becomes Bank.”
“How am I supposed to go straight? There is no straight.”
“Yes there is. Look, see across this road here, that little street there?”
“But I can’t get down that street.”
I didn’t say, “Mom, see the speed limit sign? See the other car going down that street? It’s not as narrow as it looks.” Instead I said, “Sure you can,” in a deliberately light and airy tone which I cannot believe she ever, ever buys, because it does take effort and she has to be able to tell that it takes effort even though I try to make it sound like it does not take any effort.
We managed to get to Palmer Square. It’s a lovely little village full of shops and not full of parking. We got there at 5:03pm, 27 minutes ahead of the time we were meeting Sisters 1 & 2. But we didn’t walk into the restaurant for 30 minutes, because of the angsting over the parking. Note: I did not say we couldn’t find parking. I said there was angsting.
First there was the agony of the parallel spot. I know everyone thinks they’re a better driver than whomever they’re riding with, but really. Very herky-jerky with the gas and the brake. I kept bracing myself and trying not to insult her by looking like I was bracing myself. A casual bracing. Nonchalant preparation for impact. “Oh, I’m just gonna put my hands here and lean my head against the headrest because I’m so relaxed by your constant brake-jamming. Oh, by the way, when did you become such a horrible driver?”
Thirty-two unnecessary adjustments later, we get into the spot, and there’s a meter. My mother reads the sign aloud. My mother reads every sign aloud. She gets that from her mother. All women strive, be it wisely or not, to never become our mothers, and so I have sworn I will never read signs aloud. Nor will I hum a non-existent song or “do do do” silently so that the only sound anyone hears is my tongue clicking against the spot where my teeth meet my hard palate.
So she reads the sign aloud, muttering time limits and expanses and conditions. What it boils down to is that the meters are running for another two hours and 45 minutes, but there’s a two-hour limit on the spot. Which shouldn’t be a problem, because we have to drive from the restaurant to the theater, so we’re not staying in the spot longer than two hours anyway.
But there is great angst. There is much change-counting (requests only for quarters, refusing to hear that the meters take dimes and nickels, too, even though I offer them). Then there is a heavy sigh and a trek into an art shop for change. I watch my mother walk into the store.
“Ohmygod,” I heave as I lean my head against the window.
“Right?” comes from Sister 3 in the back.
“She’s exhausting!” I say.
“I know,” from behind me.
“You can’t just stop on a highway, Mom.”
“Oh, but she did.”
Ten minutes later, Mom comes out and tells us about the very nice woman in the art shop who didn’t give her change, but did give her a free pass for a parking garage around the corner. Lovely. We go.
“Lot full,” Mom reads the sign aloud.
More angsting. “Should we just go back around and try our luck at that spot again?” We don’t answer because there is no good answer. My mother thinks out loud, particularly when her daughters are around, and truly every single thought she’d had in her head for the last 40 minutes had been spoken. I’m used to this, but I still don’t know when I’m supposed to respond and when I’m not. She pulled into the driveway of the lot and suddenly –
— braking! —
“I don’t want to park here. I can’t park here.”
No reason. Just.. can’t.
Instead of driving around the lot to pull out head-first, she backed out of the driveway, nearly getting hit by another car (more braking).
After we finally did park in another garage, and had dinner, and all piled into Sister 2’s Highlander to ride together to the theatre (no time limit on the garage), we really enjoyed the production of “A Christmas Carol.” I particularly loved the costumes, the sets, and the intermission when we realized there were two women who appeared just as pregnant as Sister 2, sitting in the row behind us. One of them asked my sister how far along she was.
“Oh, about 31 1/2 weeks,” she said.
“Oh, that’s what I would have guessed!” replied the other pregnant woman brightly.
“How about you?” my sister asked politely, figuring they were the same.
“Oh, I’m actually 37 weeks.” A coy eye roll and smile.
My sister’s eyes popped. “WHAT?!?!” she shrieked. Not quietly. In a theater. She pouted the rest of the show, gap-legged with her hands folded atop my little niece’s grow-chamber. She later admitted she had forgotten her line, which, of course, is, “Oh, you look so great! Good luck! Wow, hope you don’t go into labor during the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future! Hahaha!”
Heading back to my parents’ house, Mom followed Sister 1. Sister 1 did not go back to the house the same way we had come. Instead, she got on I-95.
— Braking! —
(A groan from Sister 3 in the backseat.)
“We’re on 95?!”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I wanted to take Route 1!” Mom declared.
A few miles later, Sister 1 pulled over to the side of the road and put on her flashers. Immediately, Mom thought the worst. Something was horribly wrong. “Is something wrong? Is she sick? Does she have a flat tire? Is her car dead? Oh, God…” Muttering, muttering, gloom and doom, horrors… we’ll all be killed here, obviously…
(Sister 1 had gotten a parking ticket and just spotted it affixed to the windshield on the passenger side. She stopped to grab it so it didn’t fly away. That’s all.)
Now I was glad I had stayed with my mother. Sister 1 had offered to have me ride home with her, but I wondered if Mom was comfortable getting there. Turns out, my suspicion was right. Mom didn’t know how to get to the house from here. It wasn’t tricky – my parents live right off of I-95. Mom can get there just fine coming from the south. This was the third time in the day that she was nervous about getting somewhere she knows how to get to.
So I guided her back, careful not to sound – even to her – like I was at all surprised that she wasn’t sure. But I guided her down to an exit lower than she’d needed, figuring it was easier and much more familiar to her once she exited.
“I should have gotten off back there,” she bemoaned as though she’d just lost a chance to donate a vital organ to a family member. “Oh my God, I’m sooo far down!”
I looked in the mirror at Sister 3, who just rolled her eyes and smacked herself in the head soundlessly. From where we were, it was two miles to my parents’ house. I wondered why all the drama.
The Ghost of Christmas Future revealed that next time? I’m driving.