My mom picked me up for the millionth time at LAX a few months ago. It was dusk, and I lugged over-sized bag and greasy hair into the car amidst honking and traffic jams. We know this route well- darting around buses to get on the 105, carpool lane to 110, Pasadena Freeway to Orange Grove, and finally on to the 210. Home.
The Pasadena Freeway is the oldest in California. Three lanes wide, it winds around Highland Park and South Pasadena until it ends right on Arroyo Boulevard. What was once an easy Sunday drive in the 1940s is now a treacherous road. It’s hard to see around the twists, and because the lanes are so narrow, easy to hit the center divider or another vehicle. When accidents happen, often they cause domino crashes because of the visibility issue. In addition to all of this, in order to get on the freeway, cars must wait at stop signs to merge into the furthest lane while vehicles fly by at 65+ MPH (the speed limit is 55, but who are we kidding, Angelinos).
Each member of my family boasts their own strategy for driving this freeway to avoid an accident. My mom says to drive in the middle lane, so as to have options if you need to swerve quickly. My sister, on the other hand, likes the lane closest to the center divider because people can only drift into one side of that lane, unlike the center. My dad likes the outside lane. I’m not sure why, but perhaps neither is he. I avoid the freeway altogether- for me, it’s all about the 5 to the 134.
On this particular evening, Dodger fans caused twice the congestion at the start of the Pasadena Freeway. We inched forward and stopped every five seconds. Finally after forty minutes, we started to move. Because of the traffic my mom had managed to move into the right lane, she kept a watchful eye on the right side as cars pulled to stop signs, waiting to merge. As we rounded a curve, a mini van pulled right in front of us- we were less than a second from rear ending it that would surely have ended in totaled cars and perhaps fatal injury.
My mom did something miraculous. Just before she rear-ended the minivan, she swerved left, avoiding the van just enough to sneak by without collision. She didn’t have time to check on her side to see if another car was in the middle lane- but her instinct told her to save me before herself. Thankfully, there was enough space for her to avoid accident entirely. “What the FUCK was that guy doing!?” she exclaimed. I took a few breaths. A vision of the car accident I experienced came right at me, causing my forehead to sweat instantly. My mom didn’t mention the incident for the rest of the car ride, as if it happened to her every day. I know it doesn’t.
For the next few days I wondered if my instinct would have caused me to swerve left. Would I have saved myself, or my passenger? Perhaps I would have frozen like the last time, and totaled my car. I’m not a mother, but in that moment I knew my mom had made a commitment to sacrifice for us even in the most rapid moments.
I was remembering one of my teachers in elementary school the other day because she, also a mother, did something remarkable for our family. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and chose to remove her breast because she wanted no uncertainty that she would live (“she had a family to take care of”), this teacher would take my sister and me to breakfast at IHOP before school. It was a great day when we got to go to IHOP. Only in the past few years have I realized how much more this woman has been to me than a teacher.
Happy Mother’s Day to all those who sacrifice their time and comfort for others. Motherhood may be beautiful, but it is just as much no-frills, unsung work that keeps us all alive.