The first time I went to Yakima was 10 years ago. I was 29 — practically a child — and in the back of my friend Andrea’s minivan. Andrea drove me and three other preschool moms to the Tieton river to go rafting. “Don’t worry,” she reassured us, “it won’t be scary.”
We stopped at the fueling station, and Andrea made funny faces at us in the back of the window to keep us entertained while she pumped gas. We thought this was hilarious because we all had 3-year-olds who needed the same type of diversion. For snack, one of the moms passed out juice boxes and string cheese. “Who wants to listen to Wheels on the Bus?” Andrea asked, and we all laughed.
Flash forward 10 years. I’m 39 and driving my 13-year-old to Kennewick for the Washington State Men’s Gymnastics Championship.
If gymnastics was taking us all across Washington, I intended to make it educational. We stopped in Ellensburg for lunch and walked around the stately brick buildings of Central Washington University. “Can you picture yourself here someday?” I asked my son.
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
College was five years away and that was shocking. “We need to save more money in the 529 plan,” I texted my husband.
After we climbed back in the car, my son fell asleep, as if his body knew he needed to prepare for the massive amount of energy he would expend the next morning. I drank coffee to stay awake and turned on an audiobook to keep me company.
The sky was gray, the landscape was brown and the audiobook was drowned out by each tractor trailer that passed. I thought about my first trip to Yakima and missed the companionship of Andrea and the other moms, as well as the certainty I once had as a new mother. I used to think that if I did X, Y and Z, my children would be perfect. Now, I’m stuck on an endless road of uncertainty, the landscape brittle and unforgiving.
Somewhere near Zillah, my son woke up. “What did I miss in the book?” he asked.
“Nothing.” I hit the off switch. “It got really boring.”
That night in Kennewick we ate dinner at a bistro/martini bar because it was the closest restaurant to our hotel that didn’t ask if we wanted fries with that.
My son ordered an insalata mista and I had gluten-free penne pasta with truffle oil. Halfway through dinner, we traded. As I watched my firstborn spear a piece of broccolini with his fork, I asked myself, “What the hell happened? When did my little boy grow up?”
I wasn’t 29 anymore and my son wasn’t 3. He is a teenager and I’m about to turn 40. The days of juice boxes and entertaining preschoolers was past. Parenting is like that. Blink your eyes and it’s gone.
When we got back to the hotel, I texted Andrea. “Do you remember the time we went rafting?”
“Yes,” she answered, “like it was yesterday.”
Me too, my friend. Me too.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.