He had to pass a test at the hospital before they’d let him in our car. On the tenth day in the NICU, hooked up to all the beeping things, we watched him sit in their car seat. I glanced at the O2 monitor over and over. His floppy head seemed to sink into his neck and I worried he wasn’t getting enough air. What if he failed the test? What if Baby Elliott got an F in Car Seat Breathing and they didn’t let us take him home?
“All set,” they said.
“Wait what?” I said. How irresponsible, them letting us take him all by ourselves. We were novices. I didn’t know how to keep him alive. Surely the NICU nurses could come with us. Our car had three extra seatbelts.
My husband, Alex, drove carefully while I sat next to Elliott in the backseat staring at his little body the whole way home to make sure he was breathing. Four pounds, ripped out early and buckled in a five-point harness when he should’ve still been attached to my placenta.
Our first car ride together. Little did I know how many miles we’d log over the years.
In elementary school I signed him up for year-round swim to get him out of the basement and off video games. The first few days he screamed at me from the back of the minivan all the way to the pool, “I hate you!” The drive felt interminable. I gritted my teeth and made a chart. One point for practice, five points for meets, and at the end of the chart, he got the video game he wanted.
By the end of the chart, he was a swimmer. Driving to the pool every day after school became routine.
I found a carpool of other swim boys. Our pool is on the other side of town, and we burn up the highway back and forth all week long. Every day after school we’d meet at the Rite Aid on the corner, where our boys would climb in our rotating vans lugging bags bigger than they were, filled with fins, kickboards, snorkels, caps, and goggles. We scheduled carpool month to month, and the boys learned to sweet talk one of us into running through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru for milkshakes a couple times a week.