Until last Sunday afternoon, I hadn’t driven on a freeway in six years.
Now, if I lived in rural Iowa, this wouldn’t be a big deal, or very surprising. But I happen to be a Southern California resident and around these parts our freeways are not unlike the veins in our bodies; we rely on them to keep our infrastructure alive, our to-do lists possible.
You can imagine the inefficiency I’ve lived with for over half a decade.
The long way has been the only way for me since 2007, when I experienced a frightening episode of vertigo while behind the wheel with my then-four-year-old son Ian in the backseat. The nearly paralyzing anxiety that washed over me as I tried to safely navigate the car onto the nearest exit was enough to convince me my freeway driving days were over.
A horrible thing begins to happen the moment you give in to fear. At first it feels as if you’ve simply lost your footing, and you spend a great deal of time and energy focusing on regaining your balance. But soon you convince yourself that no matter how hard you try you’ll never truly be able to safely stand tall again, and so you succumb to the inevitable inertia, spending your days hunched over and cowering in the corner.
You resign yourself to watching the life you used to live fade into the background until it disappears from sight, until you have to close your eyes tight and will every synapse in your brain to come together and recall a memory from the way things used to be.
Your exciting, busy, bright life is replaced by a reality that’s virtually void of anything remotely resembling an adventure.
But at least you’re safe, right?
And just like that, your once-beloved world no longer belongs to you.
I watch my special needs son Andrew conquer life, head on, over and over again, despite the odds against him, despite dangers that lurk around almost every corner. He is a fighter, through and through, and fear does not rule his life. Though his nervous system is a sensitive one, Andrew loves to touch, taste, feel life. From the moment he wakes until slumber beckons him at night, Andrew is ALIVE.
Ian, my second born, has inherited my father’s good looks, my husband’s brilliant brain, and my anxious nature. Ian is careful, exact, on time, and doesn’t possess that boyhood desire to engage in behavior that’s guaranteed to land him in an emergency room. Ian is afraid of many things, typical things such as roller coasters, giant spiders, and public speaking. But in his ninth year of life, Ian has faced more fears than I have in the last 10 years, choosing to LIVE instead of cower in the corner.
I realize I say this often, but it’s because it so deeply resonates within me, in everything I see and do and experience as a mom: I have learned more from my two boys than I could ever hope to teach them, and that includes the fact that being brave and being scared are not mutually exclusive.
I don’t know what compelled me to get on that freeway on-ramp last Sunday afternoon, but I can only speculate that it was in large part due to my being tired of feeling like a fraud in front of my children.
For every “Don’t give up!”, “Don’t be afraid!” and “You can do it!” I shout heartily from the sidelines as I watch them attempt something new or something that frightens them, I’ve been unwilling to cheer myself on the same way, choosing instead to focus on the triumphs of my children, while disregarding my ever-shrinking universe and distant dreams.
The beach, the mountains, the local amusement parks; all have seemed so incredibly out of reach for this mom, this wife, this woman who years ago gave into the fear, surrendered without a fight, handed over her power and potential to an invisible foe that has infiltrated every single aspect of her life ever since.
I suppose last Sunday was as good a day as any to stand up straight again and declare, “Enough is Enough!”
With my children and husband in the car, I offered to drive south to Mission Viejo, a city located deep in the heart of Orange County, where we were meeting up with some family. Twenty miles south of our home, it would take nearly an hour to reach our destination on surface streets.
But on this day my courage overpowered my cowardice, and without saying a word, I guided our Volvo station wagon onto the freeway. It took a few moments for my husband to realize what I had just done, and as I navigated the car onto an interchange that normally scares the crap out of me as a passenger, my husband whispered “I’m so proud of you.”
“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I replied.
With my heart pounding I merged with traffic, pressed the accelerator, and let out hearty “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I was sure could be heard for miles.
I glanced in the rear-view mirror and my husband, my biggest supporter, my dearest friend, my greatest fan, was crying.
“Dad, you have snot bubbles coming out of your nose!” shouted Ian, trying to be heard above my hooting and hollering.
Andrew, unaware of what the excitement was all about, clapped and giggled at the ruckus.
It was a moment I will never forget.
If there is such a thing as flying without wings, I came close to it last Sunday in my Volvo, propelled by the freedom I felt when I let go of fear and chose LIFE, chose to give myself a fighting chance, chose to exhale instead of holding my breathe while waiting for disaster to strike.
But the true victory was that I did it in the presence of my children, for the first time in a long time feeling a lot less like a fraud, and a lot more like the capable, strong, determined mother I want them to remember me as.
After six long years of falsely believing that something wasn’t accessible to me, that I’d never be able to do something again, I ignored the self-defeating voices in my head, and I made that freeway my bitch.
I can see the road ahead much clearer now, the world much bigger today that it’s been in ages.