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Here I am, once again, in the passenger seat. The driver’s side mirrors are adjusted a little higher. The seat is moved back to fit his growing teenage limbs. The rearview mirror is no longer tilted to see what’s going on in the backseat. Yellow stickers screaming “Student Driver,” are plastered to the sides of the car. The smile on his face is noticeable. The fear in mine is hard to hide.

These are big moments for both of us. For him, it’s the beginning of freedom. Exiting the sidestreets of youth and accelerating full speed into the open road toward adulthood. For me, it’s the end of the road of childhood. A turn in the roundabout of parenting—not wanting to exit to where I need to go, but knowing I need to do it all the same.

The passenger seat is not an easy place to be. The task feels dauntingteaching him to be completely autonomous as he releases his foot from the brake and tests out the power of the gas. Slowly at first. Still needing direction and guidance as he turns one direction or another. Checking for oncoming challenges. Knowing that each split-second decision matters in how the journey unfolds.

I’ve done this before. It’s not my first rodeo, but somehow, it seems almost harder. Knowing that this round in the passenger seat is the last. The one that will guide me from my own years as the mom of teens to the empty nester years as the mom of adults. And, while I know I still have time, I also know how fast the speed limit is, and I’m not ready for it.

Being in the passenger seat is all at once heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s the crest of the wave of releasing. The beginning of letting go. It’s the circle of life turning on its axis yet again, shifting the perspective of the past into a new lens through which I am fading into the distance of the rearview mirror even more quickly. Yet, it’s what we plan for. What we want for our kids. What we know is the natural course of life. But it’s hard all the same.

I’m in the passenger seat of so many things these days. Watching from the periphery as he navigates the world of growing up. Moving from steering the wheel of his life in the direction I thought would help him most, to shifting the gears over to him. Sitting back as he takes control. Loses control. And tries to regain his footing in this cycle of learning and living.

I sit in this passenger seat. Trying to say just the right amount so as not to cause anxiety or alarm in the decisions he must make. Trying to impart critical lessons along the way to make the ride smoother and safer. Advising when to slow down. When to speed up. How to share the road with so many strangers who you know nothing about and who know nothing about you.

It’s daunting. Trying to embrace the notion that when he hits a bump in the road, I won’t be able to stop it from the passenger seat. And also reminding him that I will still be right beside him to help navigate how to get through it.

Each time I step into that passenger seat, I know it’s one mile closer to him reaching a new road sign in his highway of life. A realization of all of the lookout points he has ahead of him that will create the panorama of his future.

So I will enjoy these moments in the passenger seat as best as I can. Because before I know it, that driver’s seat will be mine again. The mirror lowered. The seat pushed forward. The rearview mirror tipped back down, for memory’s sake. Because he will have a driver’s seat all his own. And my passenger seat will be empty.

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Amy Keyes

Amy Keyes is a middle school teacher and freelance writer in St. Paul. When she's not cheering too loudly while spectating at her teenagers' sports, she's running, working out, binge watching recommended series on tv, or hanging out with her dog.

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