This has been a momentous summer in our home. My oldest son got his drivers’ license. And, thanks to the amazing generosity of his grandparents, he also got his first car – a nicely-loaded 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe. (Which, for the record is much nicer than my first car).
In case you don’t yet have a teenage driver, I’ll summarize the life-changing equation for you:
License + car = freedom.
Once your child has that official piece of paper and a reliable set of wheels to get them places they are pretty much always on the go.
One of the most common questions I field these days is how I feel about this new chapter in our lives – as if it even matters; as if I have a say.
I always knew this day would come. Kids grow up – it’s their job. And it’s our job, as parents, to make sure that over the few and fleeting years we are gifted to guide and nurture them they learn to become a little bit more independent and need us a little bit less each day.
Don’t get me wrong, just because I recognize that a parent’s ultimate responsibility is letting go doesn’t mean that this process doesn’t kind of break my heart. At least a little bit.
But I am not the type of mom who has ever prevented my children from spreading their wings. Even when I am silently crying inside, I have made it my practice to put on a brave face and encourage them to meet the world on their own terms.
I learned this lesson in a hurry more than decade ago when I took Kevin to his first day of summer camp. He was three years old and I was a nervous wreck. It wasn’t sleep away camp mind you, but rather a half-day camp, twice a week at the local elementary school, which is less than two miles from my house. I barely had enough time to drop him off, get home, feed the baby, and take a walk before it was time to pick him up again.
But the limited duration didn’t prevent me from completely losing it that first morning. I worried incessantly through the morning news and too many cups of coffee about leaving him in a strange environment. I reassured myself that if he cried when I tried to leave I’d bring him right back home with me and we would try again next year.
Let’s just say it was a good thing that big sunglasses were in fashion back then, because I was definitely the only one of us remotely worried about the impending separation.
Kevin sauntered into the room, said hello to the teacher and wandered off with a counselor to play dinosaurs before I had even finished signing him in. I barely got a wave good-bye as he embraced his, albeit brief, taste of freedom.
I choked back my tears, plastered a smile on my face and slunk to my car where I felt both proud and devastated. I was happy and relieved to see that he didn’t exhibit the separation anxiety I had feared; but, I was also more than a little bit sad that he could so easily leave me, and his babyhood, behind. However, even as a new mom, I knew these were not feelings I could share with him. My job was to encourage him to grow and go and thrive.
Over the years I’ve tried to practice gracefully letting go and I can honestly say that this time around I don’t have any mixed feelings about him driving. Perhaps a touch more anxiety as I worry about the countless things on the road that I can’t control, but I’ve been worrying about those things for years since he started driving in cars with friends.
With three kids and 33 activities each week (that might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight) I often feel like an amateur Uber driver. I have been anxiously awaiting the day when Kevin could take the keys and relieve me from some of the driving burden for years.
At least I was, until he actually got his permit back in December. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure if I was as ready or as excited as I thought I’d be for him to take the wheel.
Those early days of driving are a bit overwhelming – for everyone. It’s not that he was a bad driver, it’s just that he was a brand new driver and there was so much to learn – for both of us.
As he practiced keeping a steady speed, centering the car in the lane, and braking smoothly, I learned to take deep breaths, keep my voice calm and anticipate upcoming traffic situations. With more patience than I knew I possessed I prepared him for left turns, right on reds, four way stops, turning from the “suicide lane,” and how to navigate a round-a-bout, all with a smile on my face.
In this new, interesting, turn of events, when your child slides into the driver’s seat, you immediately lose all control. Not only do you lose the power to keep your child safe (a task that has been your primary objective since their birth), you also lose autonomy over your own safety and that of the rest of the world. It requires a great deal of faith and trust, and a very solid stomach.
I think, and [I hope] my son will agree, that I did a pretty good job staying calm. There were definitely some moments when my nails left scars in the armrest and when he feared my foot would go through the passenger side floorboard searching for a brake pedal that didn’t exist. There were times when I uttered incessant instructions and encouraging words that he probably didn’t need, and there were a handful of times when I screeched out “STOP!” to avoid certain death. But even if I remained calm on the outside, I left those driving sessions drained and mentally exhausted.
I quickly learned it actually took more attention and effort to supervise his driving than it did to just drive myself. And for a few moments I began to wonder if I really was ready for this new responsibility.
But, in the weeks right before he got his license, all those months of instruction suddenly made sense and he just “got it.” When the day came for him to take his road test I was confident that he was ready to take to the road.
That very day I sent him and his little brother to the barber and out for lunch. And I only called once to check on them. The next day my daughter was excited to have him take her and her friends to Starbucks, and instead of worrying I relished the fact that I was spared this errand.
And now, a few weeks later, it’s as if he has been driving forever.
It turns out that my son’s new found freedom is also my freedom. My husband explains it this way, “Since our son got his gotten his drivers’ license I feel as though I have gotten a raise.”
While I don’t actually agree with that description because I feel as though I am handing over wads of cash – a $20 here, a $10 there – to help with gas or to pay for food or fancy coffee drinks for his siblings who also love the thrill of freedom they feel by venturing out solo with big brother and his car, I think I know what he means. I definitely have more time. And more headspace – especially when he takes the younger kids with him.
On the day he got his license I cleaned the bathrooms (exciting stuff going on at my house – I am sure you are jealous), made a cake (to celebrate the big day – we do a LOT of cakes around here so that, at least, is exciting), cooked an Italian dinner from scratch (a habit that has taken a nosedive this summer due to the fact that we currently live at the ball fields or on the tennis court or the swimming pool), did three loads of laundry, wrote about 2500 words for my book and started a furniture renovation. It was a productive day.
In the weeks since I have enjoyed a few extra moments of downtime, rejoiced in the fact that I could send him to the grocery store for last minute dinner ingredients I mistakenly thought I had on hand and felt relieved that I didn’t have to cancel plans for one child in order to accommodate another’s last minute schedule change.
But what has really made me the most happy is watching him thrive with this new responsibility.
Because, after all, isn’t that what the last 16 1/2 years have been all about?
Until next time!
P.S. I know that the timing of this post coincides with a much bigger change of circumstances for many of you as you send your sons and daughters off to college for the very first time. It seems I can’t even type that sentence without choking up, so I might not be quite as good as letting go gracefully as I’d like to believe. For now, it’s still easy to be brave because regardless of where my son roams during the day I know I still have two more years of having him return to the nest at night. I feel for you, my friends, I really do. I can’t imagine I’ll be handling our next big transition with nearly as much ease. ❤️