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Driving Hip Mama

Always ahead of her time, Ariel Gore founded Hip Mama, the zine and the website in 1993.  She is the author of The Hip Mama Survival Guide and most recently, Bluebird: On Women and Happiness.   As the Utne Reader described her, “Ariel Gore’s transformation from globetrotting teenager to the hippest of mamas reads like a movie script about a Gen-X slacker following her bliss to unlikely success.” In this sweet selection written especially for Mother U, Gore reflects on the maternal legacy of drivers in her family.


My mother grasps the steering wheel as she explains Jung’s theory of  the collective unconscious. We’re heading north on the 101 toward San Francisco at seventy miles an hour.

I nod from the passenger’s side, my broken seat belt draped over my lap to avoid a ticket.

“Oh, shit! My exit!” my mother gasps and, without checking mirror or blind spot, cranes the wheel to the right and careens across three lanes of traffic into our exit. “And, so,” she continues. “We carry the memories of our ancestors and our ancestor’s ancestors…”

I nod, still clutching the door handle, my heart in my throat, trying to feign nonchalance. “Do different races of people have different collective unconscious?” I ask. I want my mother to know that I’m listening to her, but I tense as she closes her eyes to think about my question.

She tears through a red light. “That’s a very interesting point, Ariel.  I want you to call Dr. Speigelman, the premier Jungian analyst in Los Angeles, and ask him as soon as we get home.”

I’m twelve years old with a nasty case of social anxiety disorder the Jungians call “introversion,” so the thought of calling the premiere anything sends my adrenaline through the moon roof, but I make a silent deal with the gods: Let us get to the Museum of Modern Art alive and I’ll call anyone she wants me to.

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My daughter holds the steering wheel at 10 o’clock and two, like they taught her in driver’s ed. She’s explaining the trick question on the written part of the driver’s test. The behind-the-wheel portion of her exam is scheduled for tomorrow. If all goes well, she’ll be a licensed driver before the weekend.

“They were saying, if you go into a curve, you know, you slow down, but then do you speed back up in the middle of the curve? That seemed dangerous to me…”

“Bicyclist on your right,” I call out.

“I see them, Mom. Anyway, so, that seemed dangerous to me. But I think I got the question wrong.”

I clutch the door handle even though the seatbelt works in this car.  “Stop sign!”

My daughter slams on the brakes. “Sorry! I didn’t see it!” She presses the accelerator cautiously, rounds the corner into our neighborhood, checks her mirror and her blind spot before merging left.

Heart in my throat, teaching my daughter to drive has put me back in the passenger’s seat I so deftly avoided for twenty years. From the day I ran away from home at age 16 until the day we began the accelerated approach to my daughter’s 16th birthday, I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve handed over control of a steering wheel. With friends and lovers, I play it off as being a good sport about driving; I only admitted the control issue when pressed — at 2 a.m. on a cross-country road trip on which I’ve been driving for three days straight.

And I wonder now about my grandmother’s driving, and about my mother’s  grandmother’s driving. I wondered how far back I can trace this memory of danger, this direct correlation between velocity and vulnerability, this longing for control amid reckless chaos, this fear of traffic and street signs. I dream of my ancestor’s days–of horses and slower cars on two-lane highways–and I make a silent deal with the gods: Let her get her license tomorrow, but let her drive always safe and protected–let her never miss another stop sign–and I promise I’ll surrender my wheel to any sober fool who asks.

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