Last Friday I said yes when our mechanic of many years and many old cars told me the van needed transmission and radiator work. On Saturday I called in my credit card number to pay the bill to the tune of over a thousand bucks. Who does that?, I wonder, besides a mother of a twenty one year old just graduated from college about to embark on a cross country road trip.

“Is it really worth it?,” he asked me sheepishly, sitting beside me on the couch when we got the news, having driven over from his dad’s after getting the van jumped by AAA who told him he ought to have it seen by a mechanic, as something was draining the battery.

“It’s worth it if you want to drive cross country this summer,” I said. “Eli says after this it’s good to go. He thinks it’s good enough to drive long distance if you want to.”

“Somehow I thought it would hold out for the summer,” my son pondered. “I just figured nothing would go wrong this summer and by the end of the summer we wouldn’t need it anymore.”

“This is how it goes,” I told him. “Adult problems come in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. Six hundred for the wiper motors. Five hundred for the ignition. A thousand or more last summer for brakes. Hundreds for tires, for AC. Like Eli says, “It’s got lots of new parts. After this you should be good.””

I should go back and revise my budget, update the total expenditures on the van repairs this year. But what would be the point? If my boys are going to drive cross country, if my son is going to visit his girlfriend on Long Island, who’s back from study abroad, if he’s going to play on the ultimate team in Albany this summer, move himself into the New York City apartment he’s yet to find, the van will do the job, just like it’s gotten him to the grocery store and the mall and the ultimate tournaments and his summer jobs and home again the last two years since I handed it off to him and handed myself the first car payment of my life, handed his brother the keys to the new Subaru which he drives to school, which I keep thinking I hear on the street outside, as I wait for him to return from Improv, though I imagine he’ll stay and watch as many shows as he can, now he’s back from his week of camping and into his Improv world.

My older son imagines driving cross country with his futon in the back of the van. I counseled him to take only what he can carry with him or leave behind, to be prepared to abandon the van. He considered this advice seriously, as I offered him a less good futon from the day care instead of the nice one rolled up in his room amidst piles of stuff he dumped there one day last week with his dad while I was at yoga trying not to think too hard, thinking “This is my new life. My newly gradated kid drops his stuff from college in his room and in the basement and I am out at yoga. The stuff could be there in thirty years, as my stuff is in my bedroom in my mother’s house nearly thirty years after my college graduation.”

My younger son imagines driving cross country with his brother. He also imagines spending the summer at Improv Boston. With four call backs this weekend, he’s debating how many shows he can commit to if he is offered more than one, given he’s starting college in the fall. After dinner tonight, before he headed out the door, just in from camping, now on to performing with his Indie Improv group, we talked about what is reasonable for a college freshman, how many hours and days a week he can work and perform at Improv and keep up with his work and life at school. None of us know. We also wondered how he’ll manage a trip with his brother this summer. Fortunately, his brother is a decent solo flyer, but all of us would love for the two boys to do some of the adventure together, driving the 2003 minivan we bought when their sister was a baby and we could barely shove the doors shut on our Honda Civic with the three carseats across the back seat, the minivan that did carpool all through their elementary and high school years, until Ben’s college sophomore summer, when he got a job on campus at the last minute and I decided to buy a new car in time to give him the van, hoping he’d be able to play ultimate on a local team and come home a bit so we would see him some, which he did, and not only was it worth it for him to have the van, it has been a pleasure the last two years to drive a reliable smaller car. This weekend on my way to Colrain after driving to Northampton the night before and back to Framingham for a picnic and before driving to Ashfield for the night, Northampton and Amherst for the day and back to Somerville again, I was so happy in my little car, good radio, decent mileage, reliable and comfortable, even if not paid off, that I didn’t have one regret about paying the eleven hundred dollars to repair the van..freedom all around, reliable car for the old lady and high school kid, old beater van for the adventurous college guy, hoo-rah! Now to come up with the cash to paint the house!

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