Road Testing the Mood-o-Meter

The Testing Grounds

“Are we speeding?” Lindsay asks.

I take my foot off the accelerator, the engine audibly slowing as the van moves uphill. The speedometer arrow drops from seventy to fifty (that’s kilometres, by the way). A beat passes.

“No we’re not speeding,” I say.

“Mom,” she says, her voice measured and serious. “We were speeding.”  At ten, my daughter is on to me.

“OK, so we were speeding.”

My hands tighten around the wheel. I feel like a kid caught riding my bike without a helmet, in too big a rush to get to a friend’s house.

“I am trying to get to the pharmacy before it closes,” I say, “But you are right. That is no reason to drive too fast.  It is not safe.“ My voice shrills one note too high.

“Relax,” she says. 

We had just left the walk-in clinic, a prescription for amoxicillin in hand. Ear ache. Strep throat. Ring worm? I can’t remember the diagnosis.  But I remember the feeling. Tired, wound-up, anxious. My husband away, both daughters out well past bedtime.  Body and mind were protesting: Can we please just go home and get tucked into bed? I can’t see straight!

That moment stands out in my mind, not least of all because my now fifteen-year-old daughter reminds me about it on a regular basis. She relishes the story (also the one about the time I heaved a pizza clear across the kitchen, but that’s a tale for another day).  That exchange marked the beginning of a phenomenon my daughter would point out to me for years to come: I drive how I feel.  Lately, she calls me out on morning drive to school.

“Mom, are you tired?” she asks.

I eye the speedometer,  step on the gas ever so lightly and nudge the van up toward the speed limit.

“Uh, yeah,” I say.

“Thought so,” she replies. She looks out the window. “Because you were only going 30 in a 50 zone.”

In the haze of fatigue, I drive 10 or 20 km below the limit, depending on whether there is traffic behind me.  On the long, straight stretch of road into our neighbourhood, I will often take my foot off the accelerator. I want to see how long we can glide, whether the van will pick up speed along the almost imperceptible downhill or if friction will slow it down. 

 This morning she catches me again.

 “Mom…”  Lindsay says.

This time she is the one fidgeting. Having spent a little too long in the bathroom, fixing her hair and make-up, we are a few minutes behind schedule.

“I know,” I say, laying on the gas . “Too slow”

“Did you have your coffee this morning?” she asks with a grin.

“Uh, no,” I say. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yup,” she says. “The van never lies.”