Seriously, Sam? is a column that looks at the lighter side of suburban life. This month, Sam reflects on her fast-paced, always-on-the-go mom life.
In case you haven’t noticed, that carefree feeling of being a parent in summer — non-existent bedtimes, smiling and nodding while the kids stuff their faces with 15 marshmallows and 2 full Hershey bars, a.k.a. “deconstructed s’mores,” sanctioned guzzling of “ rosé all day” – is long gone. The kids are firmly back to school, which means that I, for one, am again bouncing from one thing to the next like Forrest Gump’s ping pong ball, surviving on too many almond milk lattes, and collapsing on the couch at the end of the day wondering why I am so exhausted. Why do we do this to ourselves?
The consequences of this condition, which I have clumsily dubbed O.A.R.S. (Overstressed Always Rushing Syndrome,) can go far beyond just giving us TMJ, stress-related stubborn belly fat (ok, maybe that’s the rosé all day,) or a minor Xanax habit. Generally, at least in the ‘burbs, we are in this constant state of hyper-stress while we are behind the wheel of our cars. And we don’t drive small, relatively benign sedans; we wield large, heavy, pimped-out SUVs with significant blind spots and extra-wide chassis – essentially the closest things to a tank that you can get with a regular old driver’s license.
Now, I have always been a great driver. As a teenager, the fact that I could bob-and-weave in my Honda like a New Your City yellow cab, was as important to my coolness-factor as my ability to funnel a beer in 30 seconds and turn an apple into a bong. When I first left Manhattan for suburban Connecticut, I held tight to my identity as an excellent driver. I was the one who could proudly back straight down my friend’s half-mile driveway without hitting either curb, and speed past trucks in the left lane on the highway without white-knuckling the steering wheel once. But, somehow during the past decade, suburban mom-dom has taken its toll on my driving. Since leaving Manhattan, I have:
- Accelerated backwards, at full speed, into my husband’s mid-life crisis red, convertible “train car,” because I was late to pick up my daughter from preschool
- Collided with the side of my garage, while rushing to pull back in, to grab the backpack that my easily-distracted son left on the bench, because I was yelling at him to “stop dawdling and get in the car!”
- And, worst of all, almost been arrested for a hit-and-run.
It was a Saturday. One of my kid’s activities had made me late for my only “me time” of the weekend (an eyebrow waxing.) Rather than risk losing my appointment by calling the salon, I sped into town and flew into a very tight space, right in front. As I put the car in park, I had a momentary panic thinking I had heard an unusual scraping sound as I pulled in, but I didn’t see any evidence when I quickly checked both my car and the jalopy next to mine where the potential noise had occurred.
Two hours later, back at home with my family and my red-but-now-perfectly-shaped eyebrows, I ignored the ringing phone. I never answer the landline. Either it’s CVS or my mother-in-law. So, it was my husband who spoke to Officer Kirk. Apparently, someone in the salon watched me hit another car, casually check out the damage, and walk away. What kind of person would do that? (Obviously, I mean the “concerned citizen” at the salon who reported me.)
My husband silently marched me to the garage like a misbehaving adolescent. As I watched him scan my car, I felt like I was 17 and had smashed the front of my dad’s new Nissan 300ZX, while attempting a three-point-turn in my boyfriend’s driveway. (Yes, that happened. With his whole family standing outside watching me. And I didn’t just smash my dad’s car, I took off a chunk of their front porch.) Anyway, it didn’t take long for my husband to find the scrape that I had failed to see. It should have taken longer because, really, it was hardly even a scrape – more like a minor paint transfer. When I reflexively spit on my finger and started wiping, it almost disappeared. But, still, it was there. And, in my rushing, I had both caused and missed it.
15 minutes (and 1 mile) later, I arrived at the police station. I explained to Officer Kirk, in rapid-fire soliloquy, that I was not a callous sociopath. I had no idea I had hit someone. I was just a busy mom with a lot on my plate. When I showed him the “scrape,” he let me go with a warning. And then he gave me an admonishment that rocked my world: “Ma’am, please; slow down.”
As I drove home (hazards on,) I cried. Maybe Officer Kirk was only talking about my driving, but it felt like he had looked into my soul and nailed me, Yoda-style. Suddenly, I absorbed the fact that this insane busyness that I brag-plain about like a badge of honor, could have had a serious price. Most of the time when I drive, I have the most precious cargo — my children — in the car. And, if they happen to not be with me, they, or someone else’s children might be in the crosswalk when I am making a fast a furious turn (and likely clipping the curb because I can’t seem to master the width of my mom-tank.) I needed to stop this non-stop rushing.
That was 5 years ago. Since that day, I really, really try not to rush and drive. When I get in the car in a frenzy, I remind myself that, even if we are five minutes late for fencing, I shouldn’t race through a yellow light or cut someone off in the traffic circle. Sorry, is this starting to sound like a super sappy PSA for safe driving? Well, I guess it kind-of is. Because my 5th grader is now allowed to walk from school into town, and what were once simple crosswalks have become, in my eyes, death trap intersections. “Make eye contact with the driver, they might be texting, or in a hurry and not see!” I scream from 50 feet behind her as I let her practice walking “on her own” with her gaggle of friends. In other words, on any other day, that driver might be me.
Since my near arrest, I have accepted that I am a soldier in the army of sleep-deprived, overly-caffeinated, hyper-stressed moms out there. Which means I’m probably really just a mediocre driver (the evidence might support an assertion that I always was.) Either way, I can’t handle any additional distractions. So, before I leave the house, I check my mirrors, fasten my seat belt and offer gratitude for the automatic “I’m Driving with Do Not Disturb” setting on my iPhone. I keep meaning to try to turn it off, but I never do, because I’m always too busy.
About Samantha Woodruff
Samantha Woodruff holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She spent most of her career at Viacom’s MTV Networks, where she oversaw Strategy, Business Development and Consumer Research for Nickelodeon and a host of other brands. After becoming a mom and moving to the suburbs of Manhattan, Sam left corporate America and made being a mom to her 8 and 10 year old kids her full-time job. In her free moments, Sam teaches yoga and takes classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. She is working on her first novel and writing essays that take a lighter look at the life of a former type-A executive turned suburban mom. Her work has been featured in Read650 and she contributes a column, Seriously, Sam? to Suburbs 101.
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