The Things We Carry

To kids, adulthood can seem pretty terrific. Adults set their own bedtimes, eat what and when they like, live where they wish, marry (or not) the spouse of their choice, buy clothing they prefer to wear without receiving censorious comments, don’t have to attend school and drive the vehicles of their dreams.

At least, that’s the way it seemed to me when I was a 12- to 14-year-old babysitter, spinning daydreams (more appropriately termed “night dreams,” as this occurred after my younger charges were tucked into bed and I watched “The Love Boat” and late-night horror movies while my employers were out for the evening) about how great it would be to have a cozy house and cute, red-cheeked toddlers like the ones I’d just fed applesauce and milk.

A chilled, glass bottle of Diet Pepsi usually awaited me in the refrigerator, which lightly hummed in the background as I dimmed the lights and sighed at the simple perfection of it all.

Time has a way of revealing truths about life, and a couple of decades later I learned exactly why it was those parents were so eager to exit the premises–among other unexpected facts about adulthood that somehow were never adequately communicated to me by those who had gone before.

For example, let’s revisit the end of the first paragraph: “…drive the vehicles of their dreams.”

Cars have never been that important to me, though I’m keenly aware that many men (to assume a gender stereotype), as well as a few women, begin salivating if they even drive by a car dealership. There are some men (my husband included) who can talk about cars until the party’s over, much to my amazement, and, thanks to the Internet, pore over the latest statistics on gas mileage, sticker prices, Blue Book values, standard vs. special features and much, much more for hours on end.

Still, the idea of a ’65 red Mustang convertible has always appealed to me–and barring that fantasy–I could see myself behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper.

Here’s the reality: Most adults–especially those with children–rarely own the car of their dreams. The first cold dash of water comes with purchase price, followed by insurance rates, license tab fees and maintenance costs. Other factors–such as climate, garage capacity, a partner’s preference and multiple car seats–may also come into play.

Cost aside, my ideal of driving something small, gas-efficient and easy-to-park faded when I allowed–heck, even encouraged–my three children to become involved in a variety of activities, notably music and sports.

Besides the need to transport their friends occasionally (whether for birthday parties, play dates or car pooling agreements), there was the matter of all the gear. After piano lessons, our eldest son’s first (portable) instrument was a viola–not too bad, size-wise.

But a year later he took up the French horn, and thereafter our lives were never the same. A three-year stint of hockey playing also was eye-opening (and trunk expanding).

So far, so good, right? Sure, we were fitting it all in–until Child #2 took up the cello (a step up from the viola), and followed in her brother’s footsteps the next year as a French horn player.

By this time, Child #3 was firmly entrenched as a hockey player, which necessitated regular transport of a full-sized hockey bag for, oh, at least six months of each year. When it came time for him to begin other instruments, the choices (from my perspective) were clear: He could play nothing larger than a violin and a flute (or maybe be a percussionist, because they mostly have to carry around drumsticks).

Anyone acquainted with Child #3, however, knows he decidedly does not fit the flutist profile–and violin just wasn’t his style. This hockey- and football-playing kid threw us for a loop, selecting the string bass (is anything bigger?) and the tuba.

Here’s the official list of things I now frequently haul in my “Yes, I’m a mom” mini-van with convenient stow-away seats: two French horns, one cello, one tuba, one sousaphone, a string bass, amplifiers, two acoustic guitars, an electric keyboard, music stands, a hockey bag, and plenty of groceries. Sadly, there’s no room for a Mustang convertible in my life.

But baggage? Got it, in spades.