“The thing is, Miriam,” said Elise Notingahl, “you should never

She cocked an ear, as if she were straining to listen to a soft
still voice just at the edge of hearing.

“That’s it,” she said out loud again, “the problem only begins when
you start to count. As long as you absolutely resist the urge to
count, there’s no problem. When you give in to that temptation to
count, then there’s trouble. I don’t know who invented counting in
the first place, but it’s vicious mischief.

“It was so hard to believe that I had to count on my fingers. I
did it six times. When I filled the first hand, I was astonished.
By the time I got to the ring finger on my left hand, it had gone
beyond astonishment. I just can’t believe that I’m actually a
member of eight different car pools. I only have two kids. That’s
four car pools per kid. When I got married I wanted to have four
kids. Now I wonder if that would have meant sixteen car pools.”

She looked at Miriam Farlin with troubled eyes.

“I’ve never told this to anyone. I worry about having an accident
while I’m driving one of the car pools. No, it goes beyond that.
I have nightmares about having an accident while I’m driving one of
the car pools. There’s a screech and then a slide. I can’t
control anything. The slide goes on for a long time. It seems
like eternity.

“Then there’s the impact. It’s a relief, as if I’d been waiting
for the worst and it finally happened. The next thing I know I’m
outside of the car. It’s all twisted up. I hear sirens in the
distance. I don’t know how many kids have gotten out and how many
are still inside the car. I think there are two missing. I wake
up in a cold sweat. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a driver’s

“I know what you mean,” Miriam Farlin agreed. “When I was at
Wellesley, I studied classics. ‘Carpe diem’ sure appealed to me.
But when ‘carpe diem’ turns into ‘carpool diem,’ that’s ridiculous.
It’s a malignant transformation. The malignancy is really in the
tedium. Sometimes I think that’s the modern version of Te Deum.
We’ve made a religion out of boredom.

“I think if this had happened to someone else, I would be able to
step back and to see the wacky comic genius in it. What’s
hilariously funny about it is that we do it with straight faces.
We do it so seriously. Driving around all day long from here to
there with a bunch of kids in the car.

“Driving around to places it makes no sense to be going. Driving
around because there’s no way to stay at home. Driving around
because home is not much more than an evening storage depot. But
since it’s happened to me, I’ve lost my sense of humor.”

“I have to tick them off for you, Miriam,” Elise said. “Because
they sure are ticking me off. Two private schools. Soccer.
Basketball. Dancing. Sunday school. Sierra club. Choir.
Gymnastics. I want my kids to have the very best. I want them to
have good skills and good values. I want them to know how to take
care of what’s worth taking care of.

“‘Good skills. Good values.’ I’ve been repeating that over and
over in my head for the past ten years like a mantra. If I’ve said
it one time, then I’ve said it a million times. ‘Good skills. Good
values.’ Sometimes as I’m dropping off to sleep, I hear it in a
soft seductive voice off at the edge of consciousness: ‘Good
skills. Good values.’ I haven’t the least idea where it came from.
It just appeared in my mind one day right after Tess began to walk.

“‘Good skills. Good values.’ The Sierra Club conservation outing
car pools might be the ones that bother me the most. There’s
something perverse about a fleet of Volvos pulling up to a trail
site miles from where anyone lives to drop off a bunch of kids to
do a few hours of clean-up. Picture it. Each kid has an amazing
collection of plastic junk at home. We have so much that I’m
afraid that it’s just going to take over one day.

“The kids don’t pick up a damn thing at home. Half of them will
have dinner at MacDonald’s that very evening. They’re dressed in
the trendiest cottons imported for a pittance from a whole host of
Third World countries where people are so poor they’re literally
cutting down the planet’s oxygen factories. You can hear the roar
of the trail bikes in the distance. You know that when you hear
the roar of trail bikes, the butts and the beer cans are on the

“But even that isn’t the worst. The worst is that, in order to get
there, you’ve driven far enough to make a mess larger than any the
kids are going to be able to clean up. You’ve done that just by
driving. ‘Good values. Good skills.’ For all that, there’s a
terrible sense of futility that goes with it. The harder you try,
the less you get done. Yet, it’s so hard to abandon the project.”

“I had this dream last week,” Miriam Farlin said. “I went to the
doctor. He was an older man, tall, with slate gray eyes and white
hair. He was a doctor of the old school. He held himself very
straight, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. You got the sense
that he’d been practicing, if not from the beginning of time, then
from just after the beginning of time.

“He took a very careful history. He asked most of his questions
not so much with words as with his face, as if he were confident
that I knew just what I wanted to tell him and all he had to do was
to provide me with small bits of well-timed encouragement. He was
interested, but not too interested. He wanted to know a lot about
my parents and their ailments. I don’t think I’ve talked so much
about my mother in years.

“He examined me gently and thoroughly. Then he told me very
quietly that I should get dressed and come into his office so that
we could talk things over. He had a very concerned look on his
face. I was trembling as I slipped back into my skirt and blouse.
I had to wait a few minutes for him in his office. I spent my time
staring at the blue marlin he had mounted behind his desk and at
the medical books in old fashioned glass covered book cases. They
looked so stern.

“When he came in, he got right to the point. ‘I’m pretty sure that
I know what your trouble is. I think that you’ve got ‘Carpool
tunnel syndrome.’ ‘Carpool tunnel syndrome’ is an extremely
painful restrictive overuse syndrome. What that means is that
you’re doing things that you weren’t designed to do and that you’re
doing them over and over again. A part of you is objecting and you
haven’t been listening.

“‘We saw terrible cases of the ‘Carpool tunnel syndrome’ in the
late fifties and the sixties. Some of them had progressed so far
that it was really unbelievable to look at them. I should reassure
you right away that this is not a life-threatening ailment, at
least not in terms of quantity of life. But in terms of the
quality of life it really is a threat. A lot of doctors minimize
it, but I’m not one of those. It has considerable morbidity.

“‘As to treatment options, many different approaches have been
tried. This is a life-style disease process whose etiology is
multi-factorial. In that regard, it’s in the same family with
hypertension, depression and atherosclerotic heart disease. We’ve
tried shopping, day time television, travel, gardening, clubs,
everything from super high calorie all chocolate diets to three
times daily aerobic workouts.

“‘All these treatments have had typical histories. At first each
one attracts a lot of hoopla. It has ardent supporters both inside
the medical community and among patients. This goes on for between
eighteen and twenty four months until the well designed studies
start to come in. Then the picture isn’t so rosy any more and
people start looking for some new gimmick. I’ve tried all these
things myself.

“‘So I’ve been disappointed with each one in turn. Even now, I
have to confess to you that the treatment that shows the best
results is old-fashioned surgical release of the nervous entrapment.
It involves going in there directly and rearranging the anatomy, even
though we know that there is a complex physiology to the disease.
We just can’t get a handle on the physiology, even though if we could,
we’d probably have much better treatments.

“‘However, although it’s still the gold standard, the surgical
approach is not without its risks. It involves some pain. It
involves a period of time of being laid up and being unable to do
the things that you enjoy. But the real risk is that, even when we
operate with the most precise and powerful modern divorce lasers
and that whole astonishing technology, some people go on having
exactly the symnptoms they had before.

“‘Everything looks fine. There’s no question that anatomical
improvements have been effected. Even with ultra-modern imaging
techniques, there is absolutely no way to distinguish the post-surgical
situation in these cases from the ones where superior
relief and return of function has occurred. Only the pathognomic
symptomatic triad of pain, boredom and masked murderousness
continues exactly as before.

“‘This happens to approximately one-third of patients. Often these
are the patients where the prospects of surgery have seemed the
brightest. That is, the cases have looked relatively clear and
uncomplicated. When this happens we call it the ‘phantom limbic

“‘We don’t understand it. All we know is that the patient is
responding to a situation that is no longer there as if it were
still there, so that the problem must have been more central and
less peripheral than we suspected from the outset. Not only don’t
we understand it, we don’t really have any treatment for it.

“‘I hope I’m not boring you. You’ll have to forgive me, but I find
the ‘phantom limbic syndrome’ truly fascinating. I think this is
where the medicine of the future is going to have a leg (or even a
whole limbic) up on us. There are going to be whole new conceptual
approaches to this kind of disease. But we have to treat with what
we know now. We can’t be pretending that we live in a future that
may, in fact, never come to be.

“‘I tell all my patients with ‘Carpool tunnel syndrome’ about the
same thing. I tell them that surgery has risks and limitations,
even with the new generation of amnestic divorce lasers. I advise
them to talk with everyone who will listen about the pros and cons
of what they are thinking of doing.

“‘Incidentally, this approach fits in with one new research idea
about ‘Carpool tunnel syndrome.’ Some researchers on the West
Coast have recently suggested that ‘Carpool tunnel syndrom’ may
be related to virtually life-long deficiencies in an ACA Vitamin
complex. ACA stands for ‘adult communicative access.’ In layman’s
terms this means that there is no one over the age of ten to talk

“He got me out of his office so fast that I didn’t really have a
chance to think about what he’d told me. He gave me a little white
card with the time of a return appointment written on it. He gave
me a little smile and then turned away. The nurse gave me a much
warmer smile that was unnerving because of the pity that showed in

“The strangest thing about this dream was that I felt better the
day after I had it. There was a tingle throughout my whole body.
It reached all the way down into the spaces between my toes. I
felt the way I used to feel before I was married when I was looking
forward to something besides getting old and sagging. I tried to
figure out what I was looking forward to, but I couldn’t come up
with a thing. I even caught myself singing snatches of old songs
during the day.

“It wasn’t until late in the afternoon when I pulled back into the
driveway after picking Jessica up from swimnastics that it hit me
what had happened. I figured out that I’d fallen for the doctor.
I’d fallen in love with him. I’d fallen hard. I’ve always gone
for reserve and sternness with a little bit of a twinkle. I was
really burned up. I can’t imagine anything more humiliating than
falling for a character in a dream whom you’re never going to see

“That’s the oldest one in the book. To fall for a man and believe
that that’s the way out. It’s not the first time I’ve done it,
either. It’s probably the one that got me into all this trouble in
the first place. I was sure that it meant that, if I had the
surgery, even with the fancy new divorce lasers, I’d be one of the
ones who ended up with ‘phantom limbic syndrome.’

“I had the paranoid thought that he knew all this, so he’d hustled
me out of the office before I had a chance to get mad at him.
These characters have such smooth sleep-side manners. I think it’s
part of what they learn in medical school. I wanted to go back
into the dream and give him a good hard slap across the cheek.

“I was thinking about all this and feeling ridiculous and used
while I was making noodles for Ben for dinner because he refused to
eat what the rest of us were having. I wasn’t paying much
attention to what I was doing because, after all, I’d done it so
many times before that I could do it in my sleep. When I was
dumping the noodles into the collander, I poured a bunch of hot
water over my left hand. It still hurts.”

“The hardest part,” Elise Notingahl said, ‘is not knowing what you
could have been or what you could have done if you’d only tried.
I think that I always wanted someone else to do my trying for me.
I was just too scared. I thought that if I supported my husband
then what he did would turn out to have been what I did, too.

“It was the same with the kids. I used to love it when they were
very little and they made long lists of what they were going to be
when they grew up. I figured that, since they were me, whatever
they became I’d become, too. I’d be a secret sharer who could stay
out of danger. But it doesn’t work that way.

“I was driving the kids to choir practice one afternoon when it hit
me that I was going to get cut out of their lives. The script had
a part for me only in the first acts. These weren’t even the most
interesting ones. After that, I was out. The kids aren’t even
under any obligation to offer me a good seat in the theater so that
I can see what happens after my part is done.

“I burst into tears that night while I was getting ready for bed.
I wanted to explain it to Steve, but I couldn’t get a word out of
my mouth. I was sure that he wouldn’t understand. No, it was
worse than that. I was sure not only that he wouldn’t understand,
but that he’d be furious with me for thinking that way. I thought
afterwards that maybe I needed to make sure that he wouldn’t
understand by not telling him. Maybe I wanted to keep what I’d f
igured out to myself, so that I could feel that at least I had
some little thing that was my own.”

“I drive up and down these streets,” Miriam Farlin said softly,
“wondering how many divas, how many prima ballerinas, how many
Amelia Earhearts, even how many surgeons are trapped inside them.
What trapped us? I think you’re right that it was the luxury of
not trying, the luxury of dreaming and imagining without testing
anything out.

“I think that’s the worst grudge I hold against my kids. There
isn’t any way to raise a kid without testing things out. A two
year old will get you in touch with what’s real and what’s possible
like nothing else in the world. Once you start to pay attention to
that, you can’t ever dream in the same way again. You can almost
hear the hiss as the air goes out of all your secret hopes.

“We all drive around in these metal bubbles with a bunch of kids
yammering at us and wriggling and pushing and shoving at each
other. It’s a kind of solitary confinement in which you don’t even
have any of the pleasures of solitude, because you’re never really
alone with your hopes and terrors.

“I had a friend once who just went out and drove around on the
beltway for hours when she got scared. She said it was soothing to
know that people were close. You could see them. But you knew
they couldn’t get at you, because they couldn’t get out of their

“Maybe we’re all like that. We keep the metal walls of our cars
between ourselves and others. Maybe it’s even simpler than that.
Maybe what we’re doing is keeping the metal walls of our cars
between ourselves and the selves we don’t know a thing about or
want to know a thing about. I wonder if the answer to finding the
way out of the maze isn’t just as simple as opening the car door
and getting out.”

“But what about the kids?” asked Elise Notingahl in shock. “How
would they get where they need to go?”

“Walk,” said Miriam Farlin, a pixie grin of delight crossing her
face. “They’d walk. Now I wonder why that doctor didn’t think of

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