Recently my 15-year old son had his first friend get his driver's license.
I watched him hop in the passenger seat (spying, from the garage) and held my breath without realizing it until I felt faint. I squeezed my face together and bit my lip. I breathed in and out, in and out. And then he was gone.
I felt a combination of emotions. The first day of kindergarten feeling is the best way I can describe it. When what you have been devoting your entire life to is suddenly in someone else's care. And your kid is happy about it, so you have to suck it up and be happy about it too, even when you are dying inside. When you secretly want them to come running back and throw their arms around your leg and refuse to grow up, so you have to shrug and whisper to their teacher, "Sorry, he just really loves me." My kids never did that, but I was secretly jealous of those moms.
Being the household chauffeur can get tedious. Driving endless routine loops in traffic is both mind and butt numbing. But I love it. I love being the voice of comfort and confidence from the drop off line in the morning. I love being the familiar face they see in the pickup line in the afternoon. I love being able to tell how their day was by their posture or the expression on their faces. I love hearing the day's report, hot off the press in the immediacy of the moment before food, Xbox, Netflix, homework, and friends prevail. I love picking up tired, stinky kids after practices and games. I love being the driver that carts their friends around, listening to the filterless chatter as if I were invisible. I love their music blaring and never knowing for sure if they are talking to me or to their phones. I love being the early morning driver, too tired for much talking, music on and windows down. I relish the "Have a good day, I love you" followed by the mumbled car slam backpack heft, "Loveyoutoomom."
I thought of all the years I purchased the latest greatest car seats, even schlepping them around Europe when we lived there. People in Europe put their babies in the front basket on the bike, but oh no, my treasures were strapped into a five-point harness and buckled down tight. I had the little squishy halo that kept their infant heads from slumping. I had the mirror so I could see their little faces when their seats faced the rear. I had the mesh snack bag so they could teethe and eat without choking while I drove. I had a car seat that with the click of a button sprouted wheels and turned into a stroller so I could breeze in and out of taxis when we traveled. I used a service that did background checks on babysitters to make sure they had clean driving records. One time I even drove to the police station when Luke threw a 3 year old fit and unbuckled himself on the highway, and I coerced a thick-necked policeman to terrify him about what happens to little boys who don't listen to their mothers and wear their seat belts. I was committed to this parenting gig.
I'm pretty sure back in the 70s my little brother and I were tossed into the backseat of my parents' old blue Cadillac with nary a seat belt. Somehow we lived.
But for all the fears I could do little about from the vantage point of toddler years -- things like kidnapping, concussions in high school football, teenage pregnancy, SAT scores, eating disorders, shark attacks on beach trips, drunk driving and drug addictions -- I could do something about buckling in. So I did.
And now fast-forward over a decade and suddenly the person I once studied safety ratings and bought a Volvo for was hopping in with someone who had his driver's license for approximately an hour. Suddenly my chauffeur duties were pretty much over, without warning or weaning, without approval processes or emotional preparation. No more car time for talking. No more news of the day, hot off the press. No more stopping for a snack. By the time I see them, "How was your day?" will be met with a shrug and the word Fine.
I wanted to be sick. I wanted to cry. I wanted to turn back the clock and hold him in the middle of the night in my denim blue rocking chair. I wanted to look at his baby face and tell him that everything was going to be all right because his mommy was going to take very good care of him. Or maybe I wanted God to whisper something like that to me. It's okay, everything is all right, you can let go -- I've got him.
I know my son has to grow up. I know I do too. I know that he is going to have his own driver's license soon. I know that he is going to go to college in three years and his sisters will leave the nest two years after that. I know all these things in my brain. But it's my heart that struggles with the maternal mystery of loving and letting go.
I buckle myself in for the ride.