99 Problems

Published on February 12th, 2015 | by Elisa Albert


THE CAR NAP: An Essay in Selfies by ELISA ALBERT

There’s a strange invisibility and tedium to the rites and rhythms of early motherhood. Via the car nap selfies I sought to at once document and provide relief from said invisibility. 


From the time he was brand new, my son would only nap on the go: sling, stroller, car.





This, of course, made me feel like a desperate failure. Eventually he outgrew both the sling and the stroller, but the car remained key for stealing an hour or two of much-needed downtime, which in turn did wonders for both our moods.



In motherhood, as in life, we take what we get and do the best we can.


Sitting in the car I felt simultaneously trapped and liberated, free to do “nothing” but also frustrated by the soul-crushing urban sprawl that characterizes Albany, and the necessity of so much time spent car-bound in the first place.


I got my first smartphone the week before the kid was born, so my experience of motherhood was from the beginning tied to that particular portal. If I didn’t happen have a book with me in the car, I’d park the time away (where else?) on my phone.


The seasons changed, the boy grew into a toddler and beyond, I chopped off my hair, it grew back, and there we remained, napping in the car.


I also wrote a novel somehow, during those years. For the After Birth trailer, I shot footage with my friend Thea in and around Albany, featuring the tyranny of the personal automobile, the hideousness of an unglamorous American city comprised of highways, abandoned gas stations, once-rural cemeteries now hedged by busy intersections and malls, an empty store called Babyland that had at one time been a nightclub. We found a few acres across the river that had been paved in preparation for development as a shopping center before the developers ran out of money. It lays fallow now, concrete and weeds, stacks of PVC pipe strewn about, street lights not wired for electricity, milkweed and broken glass in equal measure.


The “get him a nap!” imperative meant I was always on the go: strolling the neighborhood and exploring in the car. I saw more than I would have if he had been a nice docile home napper. The city in all its heartbreaking glory, its thwarted potential, its light-years from gentrification.




The child rarely naps now, so there’s less driving around and feeling alienated from the industrial wreckage of a city whose decades of poor urban planning bespeak real ignorance of basic human needs, and could you have guessed? I miss those days.


MUTHAs: Elisa Albert’s newest book is After BirthIt is intense. You should read it.

“Bukowski wrote that he preferred people who scream when they burn, and nobody I know burns, or screams, like Elisa Albert. Dark, wise, funny – she is Bukowski with a vagina and a motherfucker of a hangover.” ~ Shalom Auslande

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About the Author

Elisa Albert is the author of After Birth, The Book of Dahlia, and How This Night is Different.  Her website is elisaalbert.com

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