When I first started working as a teenager my commute to work was 8 minutes in traffic. As I moved around my hometown, my commute grew to 15 minutes, then 20, then 25 – all completely manageable and even luxurious by today’s standards.

Eleven years ago I moved to my current town and my commute to work has ranged from the 1-1/2 hours (minimum) it was a few years ago to the mere 45 minutes that it is now. My husband also commutes to work. His average commute time is right around one hour each way. On a really, really good day he can get to or from work in 30-40 minutes. However, there has been any number of days where it has taken him up to three hours to get one way.

At 45 minutes I consider myself relatively lucky for this area, but I’ve never completely adjusted to the idea of commuting. Yet, compared to the growing number of workers participating in Extreme Commuting, our commutes are a cakewalk. That realization doesn’t make it any easier to accept or appreciate the long hours spent in the car. I used to be person who loved to throw a bag in the car and hit the road on the weekend. No more. These days when the weekend comes, I don’t want to leave my driveway if I don’t have to do so. (Sometimes the thought of a trip to the grocery store five minutes away seems monumental.)

In putting together this post, I ran across a very informative article in The Washington Post that cited a litany of ill effects from commuting, many of which I recognized from personal experience. The part of the article that struck me most, however, was this sentence: “Long solo commutes are especially tough on women, Novaco said his research found. Women, he said, generally “had more responsibility for getting family up and running and were significantly more likely to report being rushed to get to work.” My life, in a nutshell.

Prior to the arrival of our daughter, Little M, my husband and I generally managed to shrug off, or at least learn to deal with, the physical, emotional, and daily life effects of commuting. However, with the entrance of Little M, that has changed considerably. It’s one thing to realize your garden is a mess because you don’t have time to weed, its an entirely different thing to realize your child is growing up way too quickly and you are missing it because your life is spent in the car.

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Years ago I read an article about a famous actress who, upon meeting a new person, would say “tell me a story about you.” Though I never put the concept into practice myself, it has always lingered in the back of my mind as an intriguing way to get to know someone. So, without further ado, here is a story about me…

I grew up in the outer suburbs of a mid-sized East Coast city. We lived in a typical rancher on a good-sized lot with vegetable gardens, fruit trees, grapevines, and the occasional goat or rabbit in the backyard. It wasn’t a perfect life, but it was a great place to grow up. Eventually, I packed up and moved to the outer suburbs of a really big East Coast city and began life as a commuter, but I always considered that little rancher with the backyard oasis to be home. Well, that is until the day my Dad sold it and moved back to the place he considered to be home.

My Dad grew up on a farm in a rural community where everybody knows everybody, and you know who is coming to visit by the sound of their car coming up the road. Dad left the farm after high school, did a stint in the Navy, worked as a machinist for a huge conglomerate, and drove racecars and flew airplanes for fun, all the while knowing he would one day return to that farm. He began preparing a couple years before retirement, and when the day came he was ready. He and my stepmom packed up the last of their belongings that hadn’t already been sold or moved, put the house on the market (it sold fast) and moved to the country. Now Dad does pretty much whatever he wants, including help his brothers tend the family farm.

Recently I packed up the car and my toddler, gave my husband a kiss goodbye and headed down for a visit. It’s a two-hour trip on the best of days so I always plan for an overnight stay. It’s a quiet, relaxing place to be, and always a nice change of pace from my usually hectic life. Major activities on any given visit include hanging out, chewing the fat (talking politics), getting hotdogs from the local joint, and taking the baby for a ride down to the creek on the golf cart.

On this particular visit, my daughter and I arrived late, didn’t sleep well, and woke early the next morning tired and very groggy. (Okay, I was tired and groggy, she was a ball of energy.) While it was still fairly early, two of my uncles and an aunt came by to say hello, and while they chatted with my Dad, I tried to stay conscious, follow the conversation as best as I could, and keep my daughter from destroying anything.

Staying awake was a losing battle until someone said, “Why is there a cow across the road?” 

Across the road is a field, not a pasture, so this snapped everyone to attention – even me. My Dad walked over to the front door and peeked out, and suddenly it was pandemonium. It wasn’t just one cow in the field, it was nearly all the cows, and they weren’t just across the road – they were down the road, in the garden, everywhere except the pasture.

As we soon learned, a 40-foot branch from an enormous oak tree had fallen length-wise on the pasture fence that ran along the road beside my Dad’s house. We hadn’t heard a sound, but the cows, normally mellow and lackadaisical, had smelled the sweet breeze of freedom and had one by one climbed across that giant branch out into the road and gone about their merry way.

Cows can do a lot of damage in a garden or field, but as seriously as I tried to take the situation, I couldn’t help but be amused watching my uncles chase the cows on foot through the fields, while my dad rounded them up using the golf cart. Two thoughts kept running through my head: I wish I had my camera right now, and, run cow run! Looking back on the situation, I wonder if I have lived the city life too long when I empathize more with a bunch of renegade cows than I do with my family members trying to round them up.

As I packed up to leave that afternoon, my Dad apologized for the “crazy” day it had been. I chuckled and thought to myself as I drove away, no need to apologize, because a crazy day on the farm beats a crazy day in the city anytime.