How is driving in London like being in labor? Yeah. I mean childbirth. The whole kit and caboodle. The pain. The ecstasy. The new person at the end.
A couple of weeks ago I drove down to Deal, Kent, on my own. One of my best friends, Jenelle was having a birthday shindig and Scotty sent me down for a little girl-time. It was a gorgeous day. I even wore flops. Felt so good. One of like 3 times since we arrived it’s been warm enough to do so.
So there I was, toolin’ along the motorway. I’m driving 80 and people are blazing past me like I’m an old lady taking my own sweet time. DUDE! People drive fast on the motorways here. It’s insane. But I digress…I was listening to KT Tunstall and singing at the top of my lungs when it occured to me for perhaps the first time, “You know what? I LIKE driving. No really! I do!” Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a total freak show in the car. Sit me in the passenger seat and I am slamming my foot down on the floorboards (maybe trying to help with the braking?). I am grabbing the arm rest. I am breathing heavy and doing my best not to make a lot of ‘suggestions’ about cars coming towards us or using blinkers more frequently. Put me in the driver’s seat and I am not much better. I’ve used the spring-loaded soccer mom arm since high school. I’m a total control freak. Gripping the steering wheel. Giving myself a tension headache just driving over to the grocery store. ME?!?! LIKE DRIVING? I think NOT!
My heart dusted off this really old road-trip memory. I’m sitting in the front seat with my Grandmom. I’m guessing I’m about 8 or 9 years old. Noey has just thrown up orange soda all over her brand new white Keds and is heartbroken. We are somewhere between Montana and New Mexico. The trip has been all gorgeous mountain passes and Velomints. Grandmom has entrusted me with the map. Shown me where we are headed, pointed out the route, and then charged me with keeping her on track. I do. All the way to Farmington, New Mexico just before the 4th of July. I remember Papa bought us fireworks and a friend’s grandson burned a hole in his brand new tennis shoes. What was it with shoes that trip?
So thanks, Grandmom! I’ve been quite the little navigator here in England. I’ve usually got no less than 3 atlases with varying degrees of detail spread out in front of me. Scott drives and I get us there. It’s a blast. So fun to have him sitting on the right side of the car so his good ear is towards me and he can hear AND drive. That’s been awesome. Somehow years and years of being a total freak show in the car—whether passenger or driver—are starting to melt away.
That’s how driving in London is like labor. Last Wednesday I drove up into London. Now, technically we have a London ‘postcode’ [read: zipcode]. So I suppose I’m always driving in London. But this was different. This was up IN London. Not central London, but nearly. A friend was in labor and I stopped in to check on her on my way. She was so gorgeous. Still in that state where you know you’re going to have a baby, but you’re geeking out about it a little. Having contractions, but not quite ready to settle down and do the deed. All smiles.
I had google-mapped the directions on my iPhone. Seventeen steps seemed a little excessive though so I took the motorway out and around instead. Took a wrong turn several times. Lots of stopping on side streets or pulled up on a sidewalk—yep, that seems to be legal here! It happens every time. It’s so easy to get off-track. One roundabout after another. You’ve looked at the map. You’ve memorized the directions. You think you know exactly what to expect. Then you realize that they don’t mark any of the signs with “northbound” or “eastbound.” Instead it’s the “A2 towards…” and then a town name you didn’t look at on the map. You’re thinking only about your destination. The exacts of getting there. But the signs all speak to you the bigger picture. You want generic compass points. They want to give you something more personal. So you get a town name.
Plus there’s no, “go to the intersection of such and such and such and such and turn right.” All the intersections are roundabouts. Brilliant inventions all based on giving way and paying attention to other people. And if you don’t get the right exit the first time you just go round again. Get off at the wrong exit? Keep going. There’s bound to be a roundabout just around the bend where you can turn around and come back.
The streets aren’t all marked. You can’t always tell where you are. So how in the world do you know where you’re going? If they are marked, it’s certainly not at the regular intervals we’re accustomed to. I want it clear. Focused.
The roads are so tight. Cars are parked either direction and on either side. It’s so hard to trust there will be room for you and your car as you stare down the narrow alleyway the cars leave. Plus, as if the weaving in and out of the parked cars isn’t enough there’s the negotiation with the oncoming traffic of who goes next and who gives way to whom. At some point you just go for it. Weaving at the last minute—the other guy doesn’t slow down at all and you’re sure it’s a head on collision in the making.
I long to give up. I go through an uber narrow passageway and the sideview mirror pops closed. I want to go park on the side of the road and call Scotty sobbing and make him come get me. But there is no ‘side of the road’ where I am and I have to just blaze ahead with a Volvo riding right up on my ass. Yep, I’m pulling over. I can’t do it. I need someone to come rescue me. Then I remember that I have our only car. Plus there’s the tiny little reality that I don’t know where I am. There’s no way I could explain to someone how to get to me. It’s all so frightening and I feel so small.
Then somewhere in the back of my mind come the words of Regina, my Doula. “The only way over it is through it.” I calm down a little. I absorb the truth of her words. I trust those words. I’ve used them with many a mom in labor. And then I know I will get through. I don’t have any idea how, but I know I won’t be driving forever. I think of big things through tight passages. LABORynths that circle roundabout and have many exits. Digging deeper. Pain in the process. Fear because I don’t know the way. I studied all the studies. I memorized the steps. But somehow I am here in the middle of this and I don’t know the way.
So I take deep, quieting breaths. I drop my shoulders. I tell myself to relax my jaw. I begin to follow my instincts. To trust my sense of direction which is in my blood and my bones and has been handed down to me from generations before. I tell myself that I am brave and strong, that I will get through this. Then I ask for help. I say the ‘help prayer’ which Anne Lamott says goes, “help help help help help help help help.”
And it comes. I hear this voice. It comes from outside, but also from inside. Deep, deep inside. It says, “I want you to enjoy this.”
“What? I’m sorry. You want me to enjoy what?”
“I want you to enjoy this.”
“What? You mean helping myself calm down? Yeah, I’m getting pretty good at that aren’t I?”
“I want you to enjoy this. You are made to enjoy this. You have all the tools you need.”
“I’ve heard that before…when I was in labor. Oh, wait, you mean the driving!?!?! Yeah, no. No. No. NO. Ha ha! You don’t know me so well. I’m a control freak, freaking out, freak show in the car! I may learn to tolerate this, but…uh.”
But then I laugh. I think about how good I am at maps. About years of fun family road trips. How I used to be so chill in the car that I would fall asleep sometimes before we even pulled out of the driveway. I think of the stock I come from. A dad who thinks in another life he’d have loved to be a truck driver. Pop, who ran a trucking business. My grandmother who taught me to read a map when I was only 8. I think of Cokes and candy bars. I think of life getting tight and painful and the universal Hoggatt fix-all of going for a drive. I remember that I am one of the only people I know who loves to drive through Wyoming.
Something shifts. I am meant to enjoy this. This driving. It may have taken an ocean of distance and very tight, winding roads with no clear directions. But somewhere inside a new person is forming. Or an old person made new. The labor is painful. But there is triumph and ecstasy and freedom and new life too.
Yep, driving in London is a lot like being in labor.