Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Last Driver

With every “first” in a child’s career as an independent person-in-training comes a “last” for a parent; the first time a child takes his or her own shower without needing help with the water temp, the first time a child gets him or herself up in the morning, does his or her own laundry, prepares h/h own meal…etc. I know this can make us sad in those “where did the time go” moods, but when that happens, we need to think of the gains: child feels independent, parent gets to leave fewer tasks unfinished to tend to another one. It also helps to think of what is harder time-passing-wise, like accidentally wearing your readers into the bathroom when you’re not looking your best, face-wise.

When I was a tightly scheduled parent with to-do lists that had to be stapled together, who didn’t serve a meal during baseball/basketball/soccer season before 7:45 p.m., and who didn’t attempt to socialize before the weekend, I was not only unsentimental about anything I could off-load as the children grew up, I looked forward to it.

Until age-wise, they were ready to drive.

It’s like looking at a pre-verbal child and trying to imagine them speaking a whole sentence to visualize a fourteen or fifteen-year-old sitting earnestly behind the wheel with their ten-and-two hands. It’s astonishing. It’s not astonishing when you’re staring at the headlights of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler saying, “hug the right, HUG THE RIGHT!!” It’s astonishing later when you’re thanking God for making other drivers stay home so that when your child veered left explaining (incorrectly) “I have the right of way here,” you were not both in the paper the next day under a bad headline.

Forget rules of the road and passenger seat coaching. We are how we drive. If we’re careful, considerate people, we’re right-laners. If we overbook, and need more hours in the day, we speed. If we write fiction, we daydream and wonder how we got there as we shut off the engine. Sam is adorable and funny and smart and makes my day better just by getting up in the morning. He’s also a person who doesn’t pick up his room, leaves his dishes in the sink, takes care of too many last minute tasks in the morning and keeps his clothes on the floor next to an empty hamper. I imagined he’d be a careless, fast driver, too hurried to tend to the details.

It’s good to be wrong sometimes. Halfway through our second trip with Sam at the wheel, I realized we were talking like we do when I myself am at the wheel only with fewer near-catastrophes. He maneuvered past cyclists, he did not clip the side view mirror of a car parked three feet from the curb on a narrow road, he came to a complete stop to look in all directions when there was nobody in sight, he slowed past walkers. In the tight spots, he hummed to himself while he navigated his way through, a coping skill he developed long ago, at around the same time he wanted me to stop solving all his problems.

We are how we drive. So apparently, while I was picking up Sam’s room and loading the dishwasher and complaining about how I used to run a business before I became a maid that nobody appreciates, he was honing other skills – balance, pace, observation, perspective, control – all the Everything we need to stay alive on the road – and off.


  1. As is Sam. And his driving is what mine wants to be when it grows up.