As I drove down the highway, music blasting and screaming in exhilaration, I felt – for the first time – like I had arrived at adulthood. Literally, the solo drive I took was mere miles, along a stretch of highway called the Saw Mill Parkway from Riverdale to my home in Westchester, but figuratively, that fifteen-minute trip signified a true turning point in my life.
It was high time, too – in my seventh month of pregnancy, it was extra important I finally reach full “grown-up” status. I was inching my way there for awhile, in a sequence of baby steps (no pun intended), but finally, I felt like I arrived in the mythical place known only to me as “grown-up land.” One can argue that highway driving by yourself, and thus unchaperoned, has no significance for adulthood since there are plenty of adults who don’t drive. But one can argue right back that discomfort with driving on highways leaves you at an awful disadvantage if you are an observant Jew living in a small town in Westchester, with few of the resources typically found in Jewish communities. Having to ask your husband to drive you to pick up kosher grocery items, or have your mom bring you those items from your hometown of Brooklyn (where there are more religious Jews and kosher stores packed onto one block than in my current neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods), are not very conducive to helping one feel like an adult.
Besides for the plentiful options of kosher food, Judaica stores, and typical resources of Jewish life in Brooklyn, another thing I sorely miss about the hometown I once couldn’t wait to leave is the lack of necessity in having access to a car. Sure, parents need it for child-chauffeuring and it comes in handy for those in charge of grocery shopping, but when pressed, they need to admit that getting around via public transportation is doable, if not the simplest of tasks. And pre-teens and adolescents don’t have to wait for their driver’s licenses to be mobile: a fairly decent system of buses and subways trains cater to nearly every hot spot in Brooklyn. I often walked or rode the bus to meet my friends at the movie theatre, bowling alley, or pizza store, and when I started taking the train home from high school, I felt like I had attained a certain amount of independence from my parents: no longer did I need to wait to have them drive me around to various destinations.
Obviously, I was still excited to learn how to drive, though my journey towards getting my license wasn’t as easy as it was for most teens: it took me eight tries before I passed my road test. Whether it was because I looked like a 14-year-old slip of a thing and thus prejudiced the testers against passing me (my father’s theory), or because I have found little else as nerve-wracking as having surly DMV employees sit – literally, right next to you – in judgment of your skills, at least I can’t be accused of being anything less than persistent.
But no matter how mature I felt with all the avenues of transportation (with no parental supervision necessary) now available to me, I was, by most counts, still a child: I was living at home in my parent’s house while going to school; though I was working part-time, my parents were paying most of my bills, including tuition, food, and shelter; and I was fearful of most driving that involved anything other than one-way streets.
Fast forward to June, 2008: upon receiving my college diploma and driver’s license, only weeks later, I was well on my way towards picking up another document guaranteeing entry into grown-up land: a marriage certificate. In July, I reconnected with a man I had previously broken up with and got engaged within a matter of weeks. In quick succession I began planning my wedding, picking up a marriage license, and registering for things that mothers of brides think their daughters need but never really do, like a deluxe onion dicer and Bundt cake pan. (For the record, I can honestly say that I have not made a single Bundt cake since I got married and have no plans to do so in the immediate future.) But more to the point, I was being thrust into adulthood in a matter of months.
And if there’s anything that can teach you about adulthood, it’s marriage – you realize early on that Mommy and Daddy aren’t there to take out the garbage anymore; if you don’t get off the couch and do it yourself, it’s likely to stay there. Thankfully, I am blessed with a husband who not only does chores willingly (what living on your own for six years after college will no doubt train one to do, and do well), but doesn’t reprimand me when I don’t do my share. But I have received several talks about that thing called pitching in when I went about my usual routine of coming home from work and plopping myself down on the couch with a good book.
Thus began the education of Tova Ross. What, you say? You don’t want cereal and milk for dinner – with all the varieties out there? And you don’t want to only use paper plates and plastic forks so we never have to do the dishes? Odd. And what’s that, you say? The house will get messy if I don’t pitch in and help clean?
Over many months, I adjusted to my new adult life. I came to terms with the fact that a good 15 percent of married life appears to be washing dishes, and I even got pretty good at it. I take out the garbage – before being told – I make shopping lists and grocery store visits, and I generally make a concerted effort to have something homemade on the table for dinner.
But there was still one thing that’s seemed an almost insurmountable task for me: that of driving on the highway by myself. Terrified of taking that particular plunge, I often cowered to the point of having cereal for dinner if a recipe required a kosher ingredient that would require me to go to the nearest all-kosher market, located in Riverdale. Going anywhere myself that was farther than the local Stop & Shop – like the nearest mall – became a lesson is demoralization as I meekly had to ask my husband to drive me there, too afraid was I to drive down streets I never had before. And watching my husband aimlessly trail behind me as I eagerly went into store after store was too much for my stock of Jewish guilt to take, and any mall outings were cut short. It was time for me to get over my fear and drive on the highway by myself.
When the historic event finally happened, I hadn’t even set out to accomplish that much-vaulted goal. The place I traveled to was, in it of itself, unremarkable: the pizza store in Riverdale to pick up some dinner. Before I made my way there, I decided to enable a feature on the GPS that used only local roads to get the driver to his or her destination. Even without going on the highway, it was the farthest I’ve driven in unfamiliar territory by myself (despite traveling to Riverdale numerous times with my husband, it had taken me years of living in Brooklyn to become confident enough to know where I was going), and I figured I should leap past one stepping stone at a time. This was enough of a monumental achievement – but then, fate intervened. My GPS malfunctioned and rather than map out a route of local roads for me to return home, on the way home it began taking me along a pathway that would eventually put me on the Saw Mill River Parkway.
Now perhaps if I was not flush with the success of my earlier achievement, I would have immediately pulled over and frantically re-enabled that “avoid highway” feature, but, still on a high from even arriving in Riverdale intact, I decided to go for it. After all, as a Jewish sage said once upon a time, “If not now, when?”
And so, with nerves afire, adrenaline skyrocketing, and fear mixed with a sense of exhilaration (much like the emotions of the drivers on the road around me had they known who was about to join them on the approaching highway), I firmly pressed my foot on the accelerator and was off, cruising along on the Saw Mill River Parkway.
I did it – I was a highway driver, finally. And though hysterically laughing and screaming in joy, and pledging to call my mother as soon as I got off the road, probably did not help my case for adulthood, it really didn’t matter – I was too proud of my drive towards reaching my coveted goal. Pun intended.
Tova Ross is an Institutional Advancement Communications Specialist at Yeshiva University.