I am reporting to you from somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley en route to Florida.
I’ve learned that the navigational skills of my 18-year-old co-pilot do not kick in until around noon. Neither, it would seem, does her sense of humor.
For months now, as we’ve been preparing for this day when my niece leaves our home in Maine to return to her native Florida to begin nursing school, many have told me how much I will miss her.
I’m sure that I will — eventually.
Right now I’m more worried about getting to our destination without mishap and perhaps while on speaking terms with each other.
I first met Carlin when she was 6 months old. Born weighing just over 5 pounds, she was tiny and bald. I was 28, two years into a good marriage, with a maternal meter that was tipping off the charts.
While she and her parents visited our home, I spent as much time as I could feeding her and rocking her to sleep. It was perhaps then that I knew for sure that motherhood was definitely in my near future.
She would return every year or two for brief visits during the summer.
When she was 8 we decided to take her and her younger brother hiking in Acadia National Park.
“Do they have shopping there?” she asked.
As we gathered in the kitchen with hiking gear in tow, Carlin clomped in to join us in a wee pair of platform sandals.
Not practical hiking shoes, my husband and I tried to tell her.
“But they’re pretty,” she insisted.
As we approached the summit of Gorham Mountain, having convinced her that sneakers would be a more logical — if not as fashionable — shoe choice, she let us and anyone in her vicinity know that this was not a pleasurable activity for her.
“I only walk at malls,” she told us more than once.
She would remind us several times during that week that she also swam only in heated swimming pools.
I think it was then that I labeled her difficult and whiny.
A few years after that memorable visit, Carlin’s mother was tragically killed, and a couple of years after that, at the age of 15, she landed on our doorstep — for good.
She was too skinny, too sallow, too angry and very, very sad.
The only thing we had in common was that we were both scared out of our minds about the prospect of her moving in.
We reworked our lives. She reworked hers, and together the whole family reworked the household.
Somewhere along this three-year journey the two of us, with so little in common, came to comfortable terms.
I didn’t make her go hiking or camping and I simply looked the other way when she wore open-toed high-heeled sandals to school on snowy January days.
She, on the other hand, resigned herself to the fact that I was not going to gleefully stroll the malls with her, that I didn’t care to ever go to a “purse party” or a “jewelry party,” and that I would probably never have an informed conversation with her about the latest episode of “The Girls Next Door.”
And magically somewhere along this three-year journey, I do believe that we genuinely learned to love each other.
Which is a good thing because as I write this she is bearing down way too fast on the back end of a tractor-trailer truck as we speed along I-95 south toward Richmond, Va. And I wouldn’t take a road trip to Florida in July for just anyone.
Since she was plucked out of her home state at the age of 11, Carlin has made no bones about her dislike of Maine and her strong desire to move back to Florida. For seven years she has counted the days, vowing never to return to our cold, forested state.
Suddenly, however, she has decided that she’s returning at Christmas and just days ago suggested that perhaps she’ll come back during the summers.
Meanwhile, we continue this leg of the journey, me looking for scenic vistas, she looking for shopping malls.