From the day she got her driver’s license until she graduated from college, my daughter Molly and I shared a car.
Not much of a car, either, a vintage Dodge Shadow—fire-engine red with red hubcaps.
“Hideous! It’s so embarrassing, mom.”
As a single mom on an exceptionally tight budget, I couldn’t afford to buy and insure a car for Molly, and most of the money she earned during the summer went into her college account.
In those days, I had a full-time job in Concord, about 16 miles away. In the warmer months, I drove a bicycle to work. Molly commuted by car and picked me up when the weather turned foul.
In retrospect, I’ll say the benefits extended far beyond the dollars saved and the challenges posed by our arrangement.
Because she paid for most of the gas and half the car insurance, Molly learned how quickly a car can eat up a small paycheck. Because she had the car, she also did most of the grocery shopping. Although I reimbursed her for the cost of the groceries, her shock over the cost of necessities turned her into a frugal shopper.
She had jobs as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at various public beaches and pools around the area. That work paid well for a teenager. It also demanded a lot of training: water safety/rescue, first aid, CPR, swimming techniques and stroke mechanics--skills that not only looked good on a college application but that would serve her for a lifetime.
Molly’s job as a swimming instructor had a direct bearing on the fact that we could share a car, since the only weather I didn’t dare ride in was a thunderstorm. Of course, that’s when Molly would have to cancel lessons and close the pool or beach for general swimming, so she could pick me up.
The benefits for me were phenomenal. In those days, I was training for and competing in swim-bike-run triathlons to stay in shape. I’d never have found the motivation (or the time) to bike 150 miles each week unless I used the bike for basic transportation.
The ride took me over long, steep hills—both ways. I got into terrific shape. I developed the legs of Kong and a resting heart rate of 45. The long commute eased the sometimes-difficult transition between home and work, then again between work and home.
I think shared sacrifice is an important aspect of family life. Sharing a car drew Molly and me closer and made us more appreciate each other more.
After Molly left home, I continued commuting by bike for years, even though I had the car to myself, even after I stopped competing in triathlons. One summer, I commuted 50 miles round-trip three days a week.
I still live in a one-car household with my significant other. Mark and I share the shopping and errand-running, but we don’t drive much beyond that.
Since my knee-replacement surgery last year, I’m still working up my nerve to get back to the roads for long rides on my bicycle. Writing about all those years of car-sharing has boosted my courage. Maybe I’ll get out today!
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.