Cease Driving

{{I apologize in advance for the length of the post. You did ask;-)}}


“I can’t do this.”

    It was the first thought in my brain that morning. The first thought before I mentally scanned my day. The first thought before morning prayer. The very first thought.

    I cannot do this.

    I didn’t know precisely what “this” was. I hadn’t even fully wakened enough to know what day it was. I just knew that whatever “this” was on this day, it was beyond me. I’d walked a long road to get to that morning. I remember the last weekend before our eldest, Michael, had his first soccer game. I knew—as much as one can know without really knowing—that life as I knew it was about to change. It began slowly enough, to be sure: a couple of practices in the neighborhood and a game every week. Michael was nearly four years older than his next brother, so we maintained that pace for a few years, even finding ample time to add Little League baseball to the mix.

    We moved when he was nearly 8. I was pregnant with Mary Beth, my fourth. We moved into one of the first houses in a new town. There was no local soccer. There was no local baseball. I found myself in the car, driving away from our new town in order to provide opportunities for Michael to play. Christian started playing, then Patrick. I was loading babies and toddlers into the car and driving all over the place, including back to the town from which we’d moved. I almost always allotted 45 minutes to an hour of drive time each way. I live in one of the most heavily congested suburban areas in the country. We drove; it’s what we did.

      It didn’t take long to learn that our children are athletically gifted. We sought the best opportunities and they sought us as well. And we always made our decision about a team or a club in light of what they could offer our child, always figuring that we’d work out the logistics.

     When Mary Beth started dancing, we used the same paradigm. At first, the dance commute wasn’t too bad. But as the area grew, that particular drive took on nightmarish traffic snarls. It wasn’t far to go, but it could easily take an hour to get home. In the car with a crying baby or cranky toddler.

    Five years ago, Nicholas and Stephen joined teams in McLean. Without traffic, on a perfect day, my GPS tells me that the field is 40 minutes away. But we usually traveled during rush hour and we tried to avoid the tolls as much as possible. It’s longer. Always longer. They sometimes practiced back to back at the same fields, but not always. And we could usually work out a way to get them there four to six days a week. Almost always. But never without much stress on my end.

    Mike’s father helped in the beginning, until he began to fail and couldn’t make the drive. Michael helped when he was home, but he mostly away at school. Patrick helped the first part of last year when he was on his way to DC (well over an hour each way) to practice. And Christian helped All. The. Time. Christian, who hates to drive as much as I do, helped and helped, and helped. It’s no small irony that Christian was sitting at Nick’s practice when JMU called and told him he’d been offered admission for this fall. With that phone call, he was liberated from driving in northern Virginia.

    We made some wonderful friends in McLean. Last year, Nick’s practices were from 4:30-6:00. Stephen’s were from 8:30-10:00. That’s a whole lot of hanging out in another town time. Frequently, I’d drop the boys at my friend Robin’s house early in the afternoon and then come back home so I could be with the girls at their afternoon activities. This meant I had to wrap up our schooling by 1:00 or so three or four days a week. Robin is a homeschooler and the theoretical plan was for the boys to work at her house, but it rarely worked out that way. They’d go, hang out, play, talk to Robin and her husband Kenneth for hours on end. Robin would feed them dinner and get them to training and they’d wait at her house until Mike picked them up on his way home from work (if he was in town). It’s a system that worked on paper. The paper doesn’t show how much they loved Robin’s family and how much her family loved them. It doesn’t show the other deep bonds formed with families in McLean over the course of five years. It doesn’t show how we loved welcoming babies into Becca’s family and how much we appreciated Brian’s kindnesses. The paper just shows a convoluted “system.”

    Leaving. I was always, always leaving town. In the seventeen years we’ve lived here, I’ve always been leaving. For many years, there was no church here for us. We had to leave. The homeschool co-op was the next town over. Soccer. Baseball. Dance. The library. The only thing that was local was basketball. I always loved basketball season, in no small part because practices were very close and Saturday mornings found me on the bleachers with a friend and neighbor. Other than basketball, though, I was gone. My friends were not local; they were in McLean. Or Herndon. Or Fairfax. And I never really felt “at home” in my town. Seventeen years and I didn’t feel settled.

    In the spring of 2012, Mary Beth was the first to come to her senses. The pressure of commuting and the ill-fitting dance school became more than she could bear. She cried out in the insanity and even though it was very, very late in the dance season, we moved her. To a studio that is five minutes from my house without breaking any traffic laws. Last fall, we let the little girls join her.

    Since Karoline and Sarah were much younger than any of our other children when first they began an activity, I was determined to be there during there classes. We finagled all the driving to and from McLean. The boys were leaving our house around 1:30 some days and I was driving home from Stephen’s training as late as 10:45 some nights. Running. Racing. Striving to fit it all in. When I was at the dance studio, though, I sat. I talked to my neighbors. I had time to make friends. It began to dawn on me that most people connect this way.

    Cease striving.

    Wait! What? Did God just say, “Cease driving?”

    Maybe he did. Stephen was first to change clubs. He lost in the State Cup semi finals to a team in our county. Yep. While we were driving all over tarnation, our county was building good soccer right in our backyard. Stephen’s team was falling apart (this is a phenomenon not uncommon in teams just before the high school years). Most of his friends were leaving to play in a county even further from our home. He was offered a coveted spot on a team that is ranked #1 in the country as I write. His friendships in McLean are deep and lasting, I believe. I know we’ll have to work at maintaining them, but this kid is intensely loyal. Those friends are friends for life.


    I had no intention of moving Nick. Nick was the starting goalie on the State Cup Champion team. He had wonderful friends on that team and so did we. But then there was that morning. The “I can’t do this” morning. And somehow, it all started to fall away. Even though we were well past tryout season, Nick was invited to try out for the team in his age group in Stephen’s new club. I dropped the girls at dance and drove him to the tryout. It took me 7 minutes. I sat with a book while he played. Mary Beth called. Karoline was crying in the background. She never cries. It was clear she was sick (or something). I was there 7 minutes later. If I’d been in McLean, I would have been frantically calling. Could someone at home go get her? Could someone come to McLean to get Nick so I could go get her (it would take me nearly an hour to get to her)? Could Nick stay at someone’s house? In the moments it took me to get from Nicholas to Karoline, I understood what was fueling my anxiety. It was just the steady fear that comes with having no margin. No room for something to come up.

    The reality is that I’ve struggled with fullblown anxiety since last fall. I always have to work to keep anxiety at bay, but since last fall, I’ve been losing the war. Let’s see, last fall: There was the home renovation, Patrick’s final high school semester, planning for Michael’s wedding, a very intense semester for Christian that required hours and hours of my full time and attention, and there was this crazy commuting. I kept striving.

    It is mid-August as I write. This week, I’ve driven pastoral roads to arrive at Nick’s practice. Today, I’m sitting in the parking lot while Nicholas trains. I hope and pray that when practice is over, he walks off the field chatting with his teammates. It’s never good to leave the field alone when you’re twelve. I hope I haven’t wrecked his life because I woke up one morning and recognized that I was in over my head.


    The last of my three big boys to leave will leave home for new horizons this afternoon. All the girls are dancing locally. All the boys at home are playing soccer locally. There will be no pressing college deadlines, at least for this semester. I made a last minute decision not to enroll Mary Beth for dual credit classes. I just need a break from our community college and its incessant demands. Christian’s last year there squeezed every ounce of energy from me. On the morning that I decided not to enroll her, I took Mary Beth with me grocery shopping instead. On the way, we discussed the list her youth minister asked her make. We chatted about this post and that and how I’d write that list if I were her age. All in all, time well spent. At the grocery store, we ran into an old friend. She is the lovely woman in whose home Michael bloomed during high school. She was his art teacher, his best friend’s mother, his Confirmation sponsor. Big hugs. Smiles. And the announcement that she’s going to host art again in that warm, beautiful house. Would Mary Beth and Stephen and Nick like to come? I could answer enthusiastically in the affirmative. There was time in the margin.

    On the way home from the grocery store, the phone rang. It was my friend Leah. Leah and I were pregnant together for the first time back in 1988. We go way back to lazy days of walking babies a couple miles to the park every afternoon because we didn’t have a car. She told me she’d been offered a new job. She’s to be the manager of the brand new library in my town. I admit that I cried.

    It was as if God Himself said, “You need margin and you need community. I knew this about you before you did and I’ve already moved mountains to provide it so that you barely have to leave home.” I’ve spent the last couple of days planning for the academic year. I do so knowing that there will be at least three extra hours in every day. It is rather amazing what this knowledge has done for my creativity in planning. There is still anxiety. I worry about Nick, who left so much in McLean and who is shy and slow to make friends. But Nicholas noticed this summer that our home had a revolving door in front. In and out and in and out went girls of every age from the dance studio. And he noted that he’s never had friends in and out of our house. We were willing to drive to McLean up to six days a week, but rarely did someone drive to us. We all want our house to be the place where friends gather and we are all hopeful that the season for that begins now.

    It’s been nearly 13 years since I had “only” six children at home. It was the year Nicholas was born. I still remember looking at those six gathered around the Christmas tree the day we brought him home. I remember thinking six children was the perfect number. Of course, perfect for us turned out to be nine and God would gift us with soft pink bundles at the end of the line. Nine children at home pushed me to my limit. There is no denying it. The morning I knew I could not do it, I was broken open, flat out spent, poured empty of everything I had. That was the morning I genuinely ceased striving. I surrendered. God had a better plan, a better idea than all my carefully color-coded calendar contortions. And I am resting in Him for the first time in a very long time.