Just breathe

Long drives — windows down, stereo blasting, singing at the top of your lungs — have been crucial to my mental health since I was young. In my teens and early 20s, I slid behind the wheel whenever I needed to process big feelings, or step outside of my life and blow off some steam. In those days of cheap gasoline, I would drive until I could not feel my thighs. I spent a good deal of my early 30s letting the wind blast tears from my cheeks, though sometimes it necessitated using a credit card to buy the gas. (I do miss those 90s gas prices.) Some people go to therapy; I hit the back roads.

There is much to be sad/tense/angry about these days, but that is not the palette I want the kids’ childhood painted with. For my part, being aware that an unavoidable sorrow lies just beyond the horizon makes me doubly determined to stave off the tears and do my best to enjoy the time before its arrival; there will be plenty of time for grief later on. So I am making a point to infuse as much simple joy into our days as can be done safely.

One of the routines we have established is the weekly grocery pickup run. Early on a weekend morning, we treat ourselves to Starbucks and some windows-down driving on the way to and from picking up groceries. I used to not let the kids roll the windows down because of our allergies, but so long as we all stay well, I’m willing to indulge us. We mask everywhere we go; it’s nice to be bare-faced and just breathe.

Music is key on these drives. Taylor Swift is in heavy rotation, though we do not have the same favorite songs; they are fans of “No Body No Crime” (which is fantastic), while I am loving “Cruel Summer” and “Getaway Car.” But I also add old favorites to the mix sometimes, to broaden their horizons and share a bit of Young Mommy with them. The other day, we took a sunset drive while listening to Melissa Etheridge’s “All the Way to Heaven” and it felt like we traveled back to 1996 for five minutes. They don’t like all of the music I introduce them to, but we have found some new favorites this way. (Kai is now a huge GGD fan, which makes me so very happy.)

I’m not from here — I wouldn’t even say I’m of here — but parts of it belong to me. The honeysuckle-drenched shade of tree-canopied country roads. The warm, dusty smell of hay fields at sunset. The bathwater dampness of the air before and after the heat of the day. Stacks of incandescent cumulonimbus clouds against an eye-wateringly blue sky. These things are as much a part of my DNA as the vast plains of my childhood, crops bursting from row after orderly row as far as the eye can see; cool, breezy summer evenings under a dazzling starlit sky; majestic watercolor sunsets washing everything in pinks and oranges. In these strange times, I’m finding it more important than ever to share these pieces of myself with my children. Though we sometimes feel at odds with this place, we still belong. And it still belongs to us.

Beauty and peace and stillness can be found even in hard times, I tell them. No matter what is going out outside this car, inside it is healing in the form of music and sunshine and sweet perfume. Sometimes you need to shut the rest out for a little while and just breathe.

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