Parental traffic

Northern Virginia traffic as a metaphor for life with two tiny humans.

I am an RVA transplant. I moved to Richmond in 2007, shortly after the birth of my first daughter. I’ve lived here for seven years–longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my adult life. But growing up, I lived in Northern Virginia.

Now I know the favorite pastime of Richmonders is to talk about how much our city is better than the Greater D.C. Metropolitan Area and to question why anyone would ever choose to live there,1 but today I want to talk about Traffic. Traffic to a Northern Virginian isn’t the moderate slowness on I-64 or a backup caused by an accident on I-95. It’s existential; it’s Traffic with a capital “T”. If you have to go anywhere there’s the anxiety that it could, without rhyme nor reason, take between 20 minutes and three hours to get there.

If you get a new job in Northern Virginia, one of the first questions your loved ones will ask you is “How’s the commute?” If you make dinner plans with friends, you expect people to arrive in a trickle. If you have an important meeting, you leave hours early and listen to podcasts on your car stereo in the parking lot until it is time to go in. If you are an anxious person like me, you avoid doing things you might otherwise want to do because Traffic.

Having a family with two tiny humans in it feels like living with Northern Virginia Traffic. On weekdays, you know there is going to be Traffic. If everything goes absolutely perfectly, the sheer volume of cars is going to slow you down, but you might get everyone amused, fed, to school and back, clothed, unclothed, groomed, and asleep, with enough time to clean the dishes, sweep the floor, and maybe watch How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. If there is an accident, a special event, or inclement weather, everything backs up, and something is not getting done.

On weekends, you know the traffic is going to be lighter, but you can still find yourself getting stuck. Having less volume of things to do in the day doesn’t help you much if this is the Saturday your child decides to take two hours to get dressed before gymnastics class. You still try to avoid the high-traffic places on the weekends. Just as you’d avoid driving to the mall on a holiday weekend, you don’t book your kid for two birthday parties in a day unless you really need to go to Williams-Sonoma.2

No matter what you do or what routines you have in place, there are days when you are going to be stuck, not moving for hours. Maybe your kid is sick. Maybe the school system cancels classes because the Farmers’ Almanac says it might snow sometime in January. Whatever it is, you aren’t going anywhere for awhile, and you have little control over what happens next.

Some days, you can roll with it. You accept the traffic jam and make the best of it. Other days, you can’t. Some days the best parent you can be is the jerk in the SUV laying on the horn. Yelling at your kids never makes anything better, but it feels like the only thing you can do in the moment. Some days, you do keep score. You don’t let that car merge in front of you because they didn’t have to wait as long as you did. You don’t let your kids play Wii because they made you grumpy at lunchtime.

But the thing about Northern Virginia is this: you don’t have to live there forever. As our daughters get older, I imagine our days will more resemble a Richmond commute. While there will always be the chance of delays along the way or the need shudder to go to Short Pump, I look forward to not thinking about Traffic all the time. I look forward to my family having more easy days than hard ones.

Photo by: neoporcupine

  1. The answer? Take your current salary and multiply it by 1.5. 
  2. Literally or figuratively. You need someone to watch the kids while you get your Sodastream refills.3 
  3. Sodastream refills are actually cheaper–and more convenient–to get at Target. I just thought Williams-Sonoma would be funnier. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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