Yesterday morning the girls had an appointment to get approved for Global Entry. Kevin and I figured we should both be there to present the kids officially, but we took separate cars so he could head to work immediately afterward.
It had been raining all morning, and as the kids and I started the 30-minute drive, the downpour intensified. Merging onto the freeway, I found myself behind a truck that sprayed a continuous mist in our direction. Ahead of us, the road looked like a blurry swirl of water and steam. Glistening raindrops pelted our windows, and the windshield wipers flicked in a frenzied cadence, trying to keep up.
“I don’t like this,” I muttered.
In the backseat, my ten-year-old nodded. “I know. I’m sorry, Mama!”
Suddenly, I felt nervous. Kevin and I always joke about my driving skills, but there’s a kernel of truth in our banter. I’m not the most confident when it comes to driving in bad weather, and I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction. (How did I ever survive without Google Maps?)
I wished momentarily that Kevin was driving instead of me, or that a cheerful Uber or Lyft driver would fall from the sky, land next to me, and gracefully take the wheel. Alas, I was on my own.
A thermos of coffee sat in the cupholder. I took a swig and cued up some music. Slowing down was the safest way through this muck. I moved to the furthermost right lane and instantly felt more comfortable. I chatted with the kids about school, music, and who they hoped to get for teachers. Gradually, the tight knot of dread in my stomach loosened. We made it to our appointment with plenty of time.
Like me, my mother was a conservative driver. And like me, I suspect she didn’t love barreling through crappy weather, driving long distances on the freeway, or navigating hairy traffic when we went downtown. But she did plenty of driving when my siblings and I were young, shuttling us to swim practices, music lessons, and school activities, and she always got us where we needed to go.
Wherever we went, my mom almost always had a mug of black coffee in the cupholder. I remember sitting in the passenger’s seat many times, my legs curled beneath me as she drove. I’d babble to her about my latest drama, and she’d listen and provide the sage perspective that always seemed to come naturally to her.
As we drove, sometimes I’d pull out my hairbrush in a futile effort to tame my frizzy waves. “You’re going to get hair in my coffee!” my mom would laugh, as I giggled and pretended to flick strands her way.
Why was her silly coffee so important? I often wondered. Now I think I understand.
Maybe her trusty cup was more than a jolt of adrenaline, a physical pick-me-up that powered her through the day. It was a ritual, a cup of comfort and coziness, a beverage that hinted at enjoyable conversation, openness, warmth, and trust. An elixir that always worked its magic, no matter what kind of weather or other challenges the day brought. Today, whenever I take coffee along for the ride, I feel like my mother is with me, too.
Muddling through yesterday’s summer storm reminded me that I can do tough, uncomfortable things. I just have to take my time, and find my own way through them. With plenty of coffee.
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