Driving Me Home

Driving Me Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Driving Me Home

When you have brought up kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts.
~Robert Brault,

It was a cold New England night. I hurried out of work, then ran the few blocks from my office to the subway, barely catching the uptown train. I was bundled in a wool suit and overcoat and lugging an enormous briefcase, which was weighed down by an inordinate amount of paper. I remember sitting on the train as I caught my breath, my cheeks burning from hot blood beneath cold skin, and sweat seeping through my silk blouse. The train was crowded. Not an inch to move, to remove a layer of wool for the long ride to Grand Central Station. So I sat there and let the thoughts I had left at my desk catch up and resume their hold.

I was several months into a two-year position as a financial analyst at one of the best investment banks in the world. The job had been my trophy after a lifetime (short as it may have been at the time) of arduous work. Competitive skating, straight A’s through high school and college, a major in economics. I was following in my father’s footsteps, only taking even greater strides. I was making proud my immigrant family on both sides that had struggled through poverty and unemployment. This was the job I had coveted for as long as I could recall, since before I even knew what it was. And I was absolutely miserable.

The train arrived at Grand Central. I shuffled through the masses to a second track and a second train. I lived in New York, but tonight I was heading out to Connecticut to shop for a dress with my mother. I can’t remember what the dress was for. I rarely wore dresses outside of work, and I was far too busy to date, try to date, or do anything remotely social. In fact, I was too busy to be visiting my mother in the middle of the week. I worked in Mergers and Acquisitions, and the department’s reputation for inhuman hours had been fully confirmed. For sixty, seventy, eighty hours a week, I put together financial models, traveled to client meetings and fed on a constant diet of stress and anxiety. This night “off” would surely be paid for over the weekend. But we had made the plan and I needed the break. More than that, I needed to see my mother.

She picked me up in a station wagon, one of many she drove over the years. With five children nineteen years apart, she had been mothering since she was nineteen herself. I was the second oldest, just twenty years younger than she, and our relationship had become more of a friendship now that I was an adult. It was odd, then, that I had not confided in her about how miserable I was. I hadn’t kept it from my friends or older sister. In fact, I was so unhappy that I probably told half of New York by the time it was over. Even when my parents expressed their concern over the hours I was putting in and the family gatherings I was frequently missing, I shrugged it off as no big deal.

So I drove with my mother, first to the house to say hello to my dad, then to the nearby mall. We talked about the event I was attending and which shops we would hit. At a certain point, it was just my mother who was talking while I listened and nodded. And held back tears. I was at a breaking point. It wasn’t just the hours. I can see that now, being the mother of three boys, divorced, working every free minute I have. My life now laughs out loud at what I thought was a hard workweek as an investment banker. The real problem was that I had chosen the wrong profession. I could not find an ounce of passion for the work, even in the face of tremendous financial rewards down the line. Having now found that passion, it is so clear. Hard work doing something you love is bliss. Hard work doing something else is misery.

We pulled into the garage at the mall and I got out of the car. But that was as far as I could go.

“Mom,” I said, tears now streaming down. She looked at me from across the top of the car and her face changed in an instant.

“Wendy! What’s wrong?” She was suddenly everything a mother becomes when her child falls apart—shocked, worried and frantically pulling together every resource, every weapon and shield she can find to go to battle with the enemy that dares hurt one of her own.

She rushed to my side of the car and pulled me into her arms. I cried, she comforted. Then, when the rush of emotion subsided, I told her.

“I don’t know if I can make it another year and a half.”

She didn’t have an answer then, except to quickly call my father from a payphone and tell him she wouldn’t be home for a while. She had to drive their daughter back to New York.

I told her it wasn’t necessary, that I could just take the train. But she wouldn’t hear of it. We didn’t shop that night, and I honestly don’t remember ever buying a dress. Instead, we got back in the car and drove the hour and a half to my apartment in the city. Along the way, I told her every detail of my misery and every plan I had to escape when my time was up. I told her how I thought I might want to be a lawyer, to practice in a field that I felt passionately about, even if it meant struggling financially. She listened, chiming in now and again to mirror both my anger and excitement. “That’s outrageous!” she said. Then, “Oh, that’s a great idea.”

I have no idea what she was thinking that night. Given our family’s long journey to financial security, I imagine there was some fear lurking within her. After so many years of hard work, their parents’, theirs, and mine, I was now talking about swapping a golden ticket for civil service. Still, none of that, if it was present, came through.

When we arrived at my apartment, my mother parked the car and walked me all the way to my door. I think about that night often. Not because it was the only moment when my mother went above and beyond the call of duty. Far from it. Those moments are infinite. I remember that night because it represents to me the essence of being a mother, a parent, a family. Those two years were a dark time in my life, and for the most part, I got through them on my own. But sometimes just knowing someone is there to drive you home from the mall is the very thing that makes it possible to face the greatest challenges life hands out.

I will always be thankful to my mother for that night, and for all that it represents about her and the kind of mother she has always been.

~Wendy Walker

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