This man’s face says it all:
His precious child is, for the first time, behind the wheel of thousands of pounds of motorized steel.
She’s about to take to the roadways, the highways, the byways, careening along the highways at frenzied, indecent speeds (usually people just “drive,” but when it’s your precious leetle, teeny, weenie baby, one imagines them “careening” at “frenzied” speeds).
This photo, of a brave man named Jason, should appear in the dictionary right next to the phrase “abject terror.”
He looks about as zen as most of us feel in this moment, that first time your child drives, a passage unlike any other. Really, it can bring out the worst in us parents.
What other milestone makes moms and dads feel utterly helpless, vulnerable, helpless, terrified, out-of-control….Did I mention helpless?
The moment is supposed to look like this:
Thumbs up! Kudos! Happy, happy, happy!
But all any mom or dad sees is this:
A baby wearing golden sunglasses–MY BABY–in the driver’s seat. Actually, this isn’t technically my baby either. Also, he has a nicer car than me. But you get the point.
When my eldest son, Jonah, recently got his driver’s license, I tried to be cool about it. I tried to think about the fact that he had just walked through a major doorway to independence, adulthood, autonomy. And then I tried NOT to think about that. Wasn’t it last week that he was being tucked in to bed, begging me and Doyle to sing “Jingle Bells” (in all seasons his whole third and fourth years), to read him “Hiccup the Seasick Viking” one more time?
Call me sentimental, but that little tow-headed boy is who I see sometimes when I look at my 16-year-old man-child.
My man child with a new ticket to ride.
A ticket to ride down many, many roads without us watching over him.
I wasn’t prepared for that moment when he drove off alone for the first time. I thought I would be wistful, a little freaked out at the sight of such liberty and self-sufficiency.
I wasn’t ready for the slight but definite tearing sensation I felt in my chest.
His father and stood on our driveway, watching our child stop at the corner of Madison and Aurora, just a few yards away, about to take a left turn to his brand new life.
Literally, I looked both ways for him, just as I have been doing since he was born. I restrained myself from yelling “look both ways!” It was a muscle memory of motherhood, to always, always look both ways on behalf of the one you love.
Driving is fraught with danger, and they seem to hand out licenses so very casually in North America. (This makes me want to move to Europe, where the driving age is older and one can get by via trains and foot and bicycle. The chocolate is also so much better.)
Back to fraught:
Drunk drivers (THE WORST). Texting drivers (if he ever even glances at a cell phone while driving, I will take him out myself.) Sleepy, eating, changing-the-dials-on-the-radio drivers. And they aren’t watching the road; they aren’t watching for other drivers, for my boy. And possibly my boy will also be distracted, tired, eating. He’s human, after all.
An eighteen-year-old boy recently died in a car accident. I heard about it on Facebook from his pastor, and then mutual friends of his family. He was a beautiful, wonderful, cherished boy. His mother’s heart.
Accidents happen, and people sometimes die.
My heart bleeds for this mother, and others like her who have lost their own sweet boys.
I call out to God, and ask him to comfort and heal them and hold them.
“Air and light, air and light,” is my prayer, adopted from Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks, Wow” book on prayer. When we don’t know how else to pray, sometimes asking for God to infuse air and light into broken, splintered people is all we can do.
And I pray for my own strength to let go, to not hold my boy back with fears, real and imagined. I pray for courage to cheer him on to the individuality and self-reliance he needs to succeed in this world.
So, kid, here’s to you and your new freedoms. Here’s to driving yourself to jobs, to friend’s houses, to hockey and “homework” sessions, to bonfires and band practice.
I know, I know. When we are in the car together, I can sometimes behave like one who is, shall we say, mentally unraveled, what with the gasping, the clutching of arm rests, the stomping on of invisible foot pedals. But this doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver.
Actually, you’re a good, responsible driver, and I’m proud of you.
Despite the dangers out there, I know in my heart it’s time to step back and let you fly. (“Fly! Flyyyy! Fly high so you can touch the sky…” )
Alright, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to start warbling a bad Bette Midler song at the top of my lungs.
But really, that’s what I want for you, to touch the sky in your own way. To climb every mountain. To follow every rainboooooow….
Ooops. There I go again with the songs.
Really, I want it all for you, son, and more. But just promise me you’ll always look both ways. Because the time really has come for me to stop checking for you (at least when you’re looking.)
Who’s with me in this crazy-making stage of parenting? How did you feel the first time your son or daughter got behind that wheel?