The first time you drove away from home on your own I choked a little on the sharp sense of loss that welled up when I tried to swallow it back down. You turned 16 that same day and walked into the DMV expectantly with every intention of securing the new measures of freedom and responsibility now available to you. I stood beside you at the counter ready to sign the form and pay the fee, silently coaching myself to do my best to roll with all the changes getting your driver’s license would bring.
A few weeks before your birthday you asked me if I was glad I was almost done having to drive you everywhere. At your question, I started missing those days before they were even over. “No, son. I’m not glad. Not yet. Not even a little. I love my time with you in the car.” I loved those times even if some aggravated me and sent me careening toward the outer banks of my sanity.
The last couple of years in the car with you were marked by you staring at the phone glued to your hand and grunting out one-word answers to my queries into how your day had been, what kind of weirdness or goodness had played out. The couple of years before those were marked by wince-inducing genres of music you explored via blasting tracks at full bass over the car speakers and such an abacus-busting number of trips hither and yon I added Taxi Driver to my resumé. The years before those, by you succumbing to motion sickness and deep sleeps during road trips, impromptu jump-ins by your friends, and constant rushing to and fro on four wheels and a prayer.
All the years before those were marked by buckling you into and unbuckling you out of all the right seats in all the proper positions for your size and age. And this new day that dawned, the one when you rolled down your window as you backed out of the driveway to give me a thumbs up paired with a proud smile was marked by having to let you go. By the juxtaposition of my responsibility jarringly ending and yours delightfully beginning.
Your dad and I know you’re about to unfurl further into to your fullest self from the bounty of independence driving yourself is, and we rejoice over how the world as you know it is about to broaden into a wealth of new possibilities afforded to you now that you’ve got wheels. And we welcome all that for you. Of course we do.
You’re our baby though, too, and so on my final day of driving you to school, when I stopped the car and looked over at you and said, “It’s been real, kid,” I meant just that and so much more. I was overcome with emotion at that moment and I worked hard to gift you with not showing it. But there was no way I was going to let 11 years of driving you to school each day and home again, to every practice, to all the games, to every hangout, to each everything, end without at least an ish of pomp and circumstance.
When the time came for me to watch you drive away on your own, I smiled exactly as broadly as you did and I mirrored your thumbs up sign. I did so while painstakingly relying on my self-coaching to keep my tears in check until you drove out of sight. As soon as you rounded the corner though I let the tears flow, unable to hold them back even a breath longer.
As challenging as that moment was, the days to follow were harder. There were mornings you were up and out of the house before I even realized you were gone, leaving no chance to say goodbye, bid you a great day, or remind you how much I love you.
There were days you’d check in after school asking if you could hang back to toss a football around with your crew or go for a smoothie or run an errand. You have errands now. Errands that used to be ours to tackle as a team. Yes, I detested the ever-replenishing list of to-dos, but now that they’re yours and not ours, I want them back because they equaled time with you.
There were afternoons you’d go straight to your after-school job as soon as the release bell rang and evenings you’d head straight to bed when you got home. All of this meant the whites of my eyes were not meeting yours to the extent they need to, and for this upheaval of the heart, I was not prepared.
Though I knew these days of seeing you off from the kitchen, if at all, instead of the car were hurtling around the bend with unyielding inevitability it’s still somehow startling they’re here. Too soon, and so I’m me reeling. Because time with you in the car was built-in time to connect, stay in tune, and gauge your mood. Driving you was my chance to chat, laugh, tease, pry, inquire, engage, and dive into your life with you. And as you stretch your time away from home to greater and greater lengths on top of the time I lost with you in the car each day, I have to scratch and plot for opportunities to connect with you.
I have to time it just right if I want to catch you before you’re off again. Because you always want to be off again. And I get it. Driving is new and novel, making you feel exuberant and free. I want those things for you. Of course I do. But I still want what we had going together too. And maybe, just maybe so do you. For a few weeks into our new normal, amazingly and out of the blue, you came to me and asked if I wanted to take a ride with you.
I did want to take a ride with you. Of course I did. As I hopped into the passenger seat my coaching kicked in reminding me to play it cool. A beast of a thing to try to do in moments marked by sweet relief and boundless joy, but hold ‘er steady I did, and I doubt you could even tell how much I was already missing riding around with you before we were even through.