I sure felt sorry for my daughter when she got her driver’s permit. Even though she completed all of the requirements virtually by herself, she was still completely dependent on us whenever she wanted to drive.
For six months she had to navigate around town with me, her neurotic Jewish mother, strapped securely next to her in the passenger seat. It was necessary in order to earn enough hours of practice to take the road test to get her real driver’s license. She was great.
I was a wreck. Nervous Nelly does not even begin to describe my ridiculous barrage of fears and warnings and sharp scoldings that hysterically spewed forth as she practiced driving safely behind the wheel of our family car.
At first I let her navigate the treacherous three block drive home from the bus stop after school. My heart pounding, watching in my rear view mirror as she carefully pulled out on to the residential road and I held my breath the entire ride as we crawled along at 25 mph towards our street.
Next, we expanded a full mile to Costco for afternoon errands–taking the back roads the entire way. Eventually we hit the boulevard, with its precarious intersections and lane changes. Finally we embarked on the freeway, allowing her to merge her skills and actually get somewhere on this island besides the bus, the store and school.
It was excruciating–for both of us. I breathed deeply, my anxiety mounting each time we left the house. I apologized as we got in the car for the impulses and fears that I was simply unable to control. She said that it was okay, but I could that tell her feelings were hurt.
I remembered my own mother over 30 years ago, riding next to me, nervously pressing an imaginary brake pedal into the car floor, wearing a spot in the carpeted mat with her irrational fears and distrust of my competence.
Like mother, like daughter. Mine noticed that I grab a tight hold on to the door handle as we approached each intersection or another car dared to drive on the same road as did we. I thought I was hiding it until one day she remarked with a thin veil of good humor on my nervous habit. Mostly she managed to suck it up with her eyes on the prize–her driver’s license.
Early on in the process her step-father assumed as much of the practice as possible, due to his reasonable and patient nature. She much preferred to drive with him. But in order to log as many supervised hours as she needed behind the wheel, she had to deal with her mother. She deserves a medal.
In a manner of speaking, she got one–her driver’s license.
Last month we took a drive together to Kapolei Hale, this time with an appointment. The examiner called her name and she drove off with this virtual stranger to take the test that, if she passed, would change both of our lives forever.
I was surprised how nervous I was. Who cares about how she felt. I really wanted her to get her license. Why else would I have tortured myself by sitting in the passenger seat while she drove, danger eminent at every turn, facing my irrational fears deeply rooted in motherhood and a few control issues.
If she got her license I wouldn’t have to ride with her anymore. It would free up hours of my time usually spent on the road, behind the wheel, taking her back and forth to the multitude of sports and school activities in which she enthusiastically participates. She could drive herself there and back. She could go to the store and pick up last-minute items that our family always seems to need at 8:00 PM, just when I’m ready to relax for a while. She can take her step-sister places too. The possibilities are endless.
With my eyes also on the prize, waiting passed fairly quickly. 20 minutes after departure, the examiner followed by my daughter returned, walking silently back up the hill. She turned her solemn face to me, flashed a quick smile and mouthed, “I passed.”
I can only imagine how great she felt because I was jubilant. I was free! For sixteen years I carted and ferried and carpooled this child to play dates, school, doctor’s appointments, Hebrew classes, social functions, hula practice, softball games, canoe paddling regattas.
It might be said that our relationship formed and blossomed during all of the time spent together in the car. From out of the womb into the world, from infant seat to booster seat, back seat to front seat, passenger seat to driver’s seat, from drop off to pick up this child has been in tow. My passenger.
And now she can drive herself. It is time. On our way back from the DMV (her driving, me less nervous) I told her in a very stern voice, “You may think that having your driver’s license is your ticket to freedom,” taking a poignant pause for her to think and worry a bit, “but I have to tell you that it really is mine.”
Finally, my days of carpooling and arranging my schedule around hers are coming to a close. I have the option to sleep past 5:30 AM on school days because she is perfectly capable of setting an alarm, getting up herself and driving to the bus stop without me. And she does.
I can go out on a Saturday night without having to be at the ready to pick her up from the football game after the fourth quarter decides to end. If we need her to drive the younger teen to an activity or appointment or party we just have to ask and she is at the ready to oblige (she’d better be!)
It is such a wonderful feeling that I am not willing to taint it with anxious, unnecessary worry. We have safety precautions in place. She is very responsible and careful. It is enough.
I know I am going to miss her and the time we spend together in the car, talking and sharing, not to mention having a captive audience. In the short month she has been driving on her own I have had time to reflect.
I think about the music we’ve shared: CD’s with Sesame Street songs and how she’d sing along in her sweet toddler’s voice, the Aaron Carter phase, Fergalicious on the radio and recently whatever she blasts from her iPod so I can keep up to date with her and what is trending these days.
There has been a lot of talking: constant chatter and incessant questions from the backseat when she was little, sometimes driving me a bit crazy, after learning to read she read every sign out loud, school gossip and teenage confessions, scoldings and reprimands. Every moment a blessing to bring us to this moment.
I have to admit that the relief still overrides the sentiment, leaving me not with a sense of loss, just a nice warm feeling of satisfaction. And when I miss her just a little too much, all I have to do is invite her to join me for a trip to the commissary or the mall and she is at the ready and willing.
She hops right in that passenger seat, I back out of the driveway and we roll on towards our destination, picking up right where we left off on our mother, daughter journey. And thank goodness that once again, I get to drive.