There is a stoplight in Missoula that embodies all of what is stressful in my life. I sit there every day, sometimes through three lights, waiting for my chance to shoot across the many lanes of traffic and down the hill. I tap the steering wheel and careen my neck, trying to see what is going on in front of the car in front of me. I urge, in the way only a true-born East Coaster can, the cars in front of me. Go on. Keep moving. Cross on the yellow light or we’ll all be sitting here all day. Sometimes, it seems as though the other drivers hear me, sometimes they don’t and we are stuck at the light through another excruciating cycle.
The light at Third and Russell isn’t really anything special. It was probably designed way back when to handle about half as many cars as it does. The intersection is hamstrung by a two-lane outdated bridge, a popular grocery store with a super tight parking lot that it is nearly impossible to turn left out of and more and more people trying to get from one side of town to another. From this intersection I can almost see the top of Chris and Julie’s house where they’ve lived for years and almost every day I wonder what they are doing as I sit there waiting to nudge my car under the traffic light.
Third and Russell could be any traffic light that has outgrown its usefulness in any town. But it’s in my town and a part of my every day struggle to do it all and on time.
Some mornings I go to work at 7 a.m. or whenever I can drag myself out of bed so that I can leave at 3 p.m. to pick up Eliza and Lucille. There is an inherent problem here because they get out of school at 2:50 p.m. They hang out at school while I sit at Third and Russell trying so hard to get to them. I split the difference and leave work a touch earlier than 3 p.m. so I can get there, so they don’t have to wait. But it’s hard to leave work at 2:45 p.m. in the afternoon and still appear to be productive and contributing. Even though I go to work these days at 7 a.m., no one else does and so it just looks as though I’m leaving early. But I can’t get to my kids’ school by 2:50 p.m. so, to them, I’m late. Even if only by 10 minutes.
I can’t help but think there is something wrong in this construct. Something that we are all missing out on by playing by the rules. It’s a calculation I go over and over in my head. Could I really get to work at 6:30 a.m.? Could I put the kids in aftercare on those days? The answer is no on both counts so I’m stuck at Third and Russell watching the minutes pass on the clock knowing I’m on one side of the light longing to be with my kids and they are on the other side waiting for me.
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