Driving Miss Girl

“Everything’s finally getting back to normal,” my friend in Miami texted last night, relieved to have quarantine restrictions there lifted and to have a bit more freedom, whatever that actually means.

A trip to the AT&T store here on Saturday (yes, a new iPhone to replace a dead one was essential) revealed Atlantans feel the same way. Atlantic Station was packed with crowds shopping, eating and lounging on patios — with very few masks on and even less social distancing happening. I cringed as I scurried from garage to store and back along the shortest possible path, safe and fashionable in my Johnny Was mask, artfully dodging the freedom crowd and touching nothing along the way.

While three months of isolation hasn’t seemed normal, nothing that’s going on now seems normal or sane to me, either. This week, though, we have had a few moments that have reminded me of the Before Times and the simple rituals that we’ve been missing that I didn’t even know we were missing.

Back then, on most days, I drove Miss Girl to school or picked her up and very often, before I got my shiny new work-at-an-office job, both. She was also my partner in crime for most weekend Target & Publix runs, as well as many other errands that now seem completely frivolous. Those rides — even the short one mile to school or back — were times when we talked. I heard all the school gossip; got the lowdown on which boys her friends liked; learned who the mean kids were and about their latest run-ins with authority; found out about the last minute things I needed to buy immediately for some project; heard the best/worst fourth-grade jokes; and debated endlessly whether Shawn Mendes or Harry Styles is cuter (Harry, definitely Harry).

Turns out, I’ve missed those rides immensely. For three months, now, there has been no school to drive to and from. Errand running has been cut to the most minimal and it is always a solo adventure. Where I used to value my alone time in the car, it’s now just another one of the utterly isolating events the current circumstances dictate.

Then on Saturday, she rode with me to the Post Office to mail my latest batch of Postcards to Voters. It was such a boring trip and she was kind of sorry she agreed to come. But I was so glad. We talked about her friends and I don’t even know what else, but it was like we instantly, seamlessly fell back into our old groove, with her chattering at me nonstop from the backseat and me nodding along, occasionally punctuating her flow with uh-huhs, oh no!s and I’m so sure!s. For a moment, I forgot everything else going on and let myself get swept up in the old normal. I told her how much I had missed it and when she agreed, I thought I might melt.

Every day this week, we’ve taken an eight-minute ride to and from art camp, where she gets to see some different kids and do something productive for six hours each day. And our car talks have made everything seem sane again, even if only for just a few glorious minutes a day.

Yesterday, a longer drive to a doctor’s appointment produced gossip about her friends at art camp, an intricate explanation of Squishmallows and the game she and her neighborhood friends are playing with them. Bonus: and a windows-down, sunroof-open mommy-daughter belt-out of Adore You. And in that moment, I didn’t care if everything else never went back to normal, as long as we have our car rides.

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