It's on cold mornings like this that I really hate being "My Mother, the Car"- my kids' only means of transportation to school. We live too far away for them to walk, but too close for bus service.
As we leave the house today, we're roughly on schedule for the seven-minute trip, thanks to the usual mixture of planning (coats, hats, gloves, and backpacks by the door) and cajoling ("C'mon Kathleen, c'mon"). Not to mention lots of refereeing. Most parents know how that goes:
"Mom should have named you 'C'mon Kathleen,' " says the exasperated, always-on-time nine-year-old.
"Oh, yeah? She should have named you 'Stupid Elizabeth,' " retorts the what-me-worry? seven-year-old.
"Enough, already! You'll both be the Late Sisters if you don't come on," says their why-me? mother.
Things go downhill when I spot our car. If you are what you drive, today I'm a beat-up Corsica covered in frost, with frozen-shut doors. Using strength born of desperation, I manage to pry open the passenger-side front door. "Climb in," I tell the girls.
"How come you never let us do this before?" asks Kathleen. "Jack Frost must like peacocks," says Elizabeth. "Did you see how pretty the frost is on the trunk? It looks like peacock feathers."
"No, hon, I didn't notice," I say, climbing less than gracefully over the steering column to start the car. "I'll look as I clear off the windows."
"Aw, do you have to?" says Kathleen, "It's so nice."
While I scrape off the frost, the girls pretend to clear the windows from the inside. Delighted by their own cleverness, they wave as I "uncover" them, no longer hidden by the frost. "You're making snow!" Kathleen calls out as the scraped frost collects on the sides of the windshield. "You missed a spot in the middle," adds Elizabeth.
I find myself smiling as we travel to school. In 10 years of commuting to my job, not one of my carpool buddies ever cheered when I got back into the driver's seat after scraping off the windows. And the girls aren't late after all - their classmates are still waiting in the schoolyard.
Parking in my usual spot, a block from school, I climb out the passenger side, then wait as the girls collect their things. (Naturally, they had to remove their hats and gloves on the trip.)
As she steps from the car, Kathleen takes a deep breath, then breathes out. "I'm a train, Mom!" she says. "No, wait, I'm a dragon!" I blow some frosty smoke-breath back; her older sister does the same, roaring, "I'm a bigger dragon!" Elizabeth runs ahead to catch up with a friend.
Kathleen takes my hand, but quickly drops it to pick up an oak leaf covered in a delicate white coating of frost. "Look, Mom, isn't it beautiful? I'll give it to my teacher." Then, conscience-stricken, she adds, "Unless you want it...?"
"It is beautiful," I agree, not wanting to dismiss the gift, but knowing the score: Teacher I00, Mom 50. "I have some errands to do, though, so it might melt before I get home. Give it to Ms. Ortiz, but make sure you do it right away."
I kiss the girls at the schoolyard gate and stop to tell another mother that yes, I can help with the book sale that week. The bell rings, and as the kids line up, there is Kathleen furiously blowing dragon-breaths to get the hair out of her eyes. She can't use her hands, because she is carefully cradling the frost-covered leaf. I watch as Elizabeth, rolling her eyes, steps out of her line and moves her little sister's rogue hair into place.
All of a sudden, I realize that I love being "My Mother, the Car" on mornings like this. And Kathleen is so right to be gentle with her fragile treasure. In this life, things of beauty may only last a moment, sometimes the briefest second. If you don't take care, you might miss them.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society