At 16, I drove like I didn't have a future, or not one I particularly cared about. My driving disposition was fancy free, cavalier. I thought nothing of violent accelerations that would catch me up, change me lanes, get me there faster, pass a slower driver. My rattly '79 Toyota Corolla--oh, I named her "Molly" by the way, sweet in an early 90s sort of way. So, Molly's engine might overheat on my way from rural Iowa to more rural Iowa. I fretted and hoped for the best; staying home never occurred to me as a viable alternative. On cold mornings, such as those of late in Iowa's December, Molly was skeletal, a tin shell, and conducted cold as well as most tin does; I jittered and shivered my way through town and country even if, at the same time, Molly overheated. And car maintenance--I could neither afford it or know what it was. Probably why Molly blew a gasket and I sold her for $75 because I couldn't pay the $600 to have her fixed.
My driving disposition should have changed a long time ago--maybe about the time I got married, or began thinking about having children. To be honest, it didn't change fully until Tiny arrived. I think twice about getting in the car with three children in five degree weather--hats, gloves, coats, boots, check? One hundred and fifty-thousand mile maintenance, check? Oil change, check?
Also, the enormity of the act of simply getting on the Interstate with or without children in the car bears down on me. The fact of three lives depending on me from day to day is enough to wear off any residual cavalier and shine on some sober. Driving is serious business. I am Someone's Mother. I am Three Somebodies' Mother. I am a M.A.D.D. and a mother against texting-and-driving, mascara-and-driving, sight-seeing-and-driving. I'm also a mother against sibling-arguements-and-driving because sometimes I use the rear-view mirror to referree the drama in the way, way back of the minivan, only to look up--when? 30 seconds later? I never know--and exhale sharply in relief that the truck before me didn't brake unexpectedly, that the light was still green.
Of course choices on the road always had forever-implications, but I didn't know Oldest and Middle and Tiny before--three lives on the cusp of bloom. And I didn't know what it would be like for my niece to live without my brother, who died because of a car, some alcohol, and the exhilaration of driving too fast. He and she together had a lot more to accomplish in this life before he left it. I look at my girls: They have Christmas programs to sing in, snowmen to build, easels to cover with paint, dances to tap out, piano lessons to review. They have friendships to forge, books to read, wisdom to search out and wield. Maybe, too, they have their own Oldests and Middles and Tinies to beget.
I don't drive in fear, but I do drive like a surgeon who knows she must pay careful, uncompromising attention. Also, like a woman shaped by relief and gratitude that so far none of her miscalculations have cost her or the Tinies anything, not anything at all to speak of.