I learned to drive when I was eight months pregnant in Cherry Point, North Carolina. My husband was waiting for our first baby to be born to join his squadron in Okinawa on route to Vietnam. We owned an old, lime-green Rambler then, with the gearshift on the steering wheel and I could barely reach the clutch pedal given the large belly I was carrying around. The driving instructor, an old hippy, stood out in the Marine Corps base like a sore thumb with his long locks in a sea of crew cuts. I ended up borrowing a neighbor’s car to take the driving exam because I hadn’t mastered the clutch. It’s a miracle that I passed. Luckily, I wasn’t asked to parallel park, something that was completely useless in the base where every home had a driveway; maybe the police officer just gave me a break, afraid that I would go into labor right then and there.
While my husband was in Vietnam, I moved to West Lafayette, Indiana with my baby daughter to be close to my parents. My father was a professor at Purdue University, where I had attended as an undergraduate. It was nice to have Spanish meals cooked by my mother every day. It was terrible having to hide from my classmates’ demonstrations, chanting slogans against the war. We had sold the old Rambler in the base and had bought a second-hand navy-blue Chevy Nova with automatic transmission. Soon I was comfortable driving all over town — avoiding the campus, of course. I don’t think I ever had to parallel park in that small Mid-Western town.
Later, I never had to practice my parking skills living in corporate world suburbia, which was exactly the same as the military but in civilian clothes. I would have to wait over fifteen years until I found myself in a big city. By then I had gone through several cars: the red Chevy wagon to accommodate a second daughter, a silver Mustang with a sunroof and red interior that made me feel younger and an Audi Fox, which was foxy indeed. By then, I was divorcing the Marine turned executive, my two daughters were teenagers, and I was in graduate school in Philadelphia.
But for some reason, I never felt confident parallel parking. Maybe it was like riding a bike; one needed to learn that as a child, something else I hadn’t learned growing up in Madrid. Now I have the car I always wanted, a vintage Beamer. An ice-blue sporty model that my grandchildren used to call “Grandma’s fast car.” Even though I now live in a high-rise condo in Center City with its own parking garage underground, I have finally mastered parallel parking!
Why now, you may ask, when there is valet parking in my building and I hardly ever park in the city streets, since I prefer walking everywhere as I did as a young girl in Madrid. It’s because I’m referring to a different kind of parking that I learned in my Mindfulness Seminar. When something serious happens, from financial woes to Covid; when I can’t sleep, I know just what to do. I park it. I put it on the queue of pressing problems, and I think of more pleasant thoughts, like my charming twin granddaughters or my “perfect’ grandson, the son I never had.
I’m an expert at this psychological kind of parallel parking now. The young woman who learned to drive late, who made the best of being a Vietnam widow first and a real widow now, has grown up. Nothing gives me more pleasure or more confidence than knowing that when I have a problem, I will solve it somehow, but for the time being, I can parallel park it until later when I’m in a better place to deal with it. For now, my pressing problems are safely parked, and I can sleep or dream about this bumpy road that is life.