I learned about my daughter’s new crush one day after school when she ran into the car, stealing the front seat before her brothers got there.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said. “But we have a thing.”
That day, I learned having “a thing” meant you liked each other but you didn’t put a label on your relationship and it usually led to boyfriend/girlfriend status later after this trial run.
It was a great opportunity to ask her more questions and remind her to be true to herself.
“If you want more than a ‘thing’ don’t be afraid to say it. But don’t think you gave to take this ‘thing’ to the next level just because it’s the next expected thing.”
I was confused myself, but it was a good talk until my youngest barged in the car demanding fried food and sharing the details of his difficult Monday with me.
Most of these conversations — the ones where my kids are open and chatty and don’t shrug their shoulders when I ask them questions — happen in the car, usually after school or when they are excited about going to a social event with their friends.
Maybe it’s because riding in a vehicle is a more comfortable way to let me into their lives. I’m not looking at them or sitting across from them at the table. My focus is on the road, and I’m sure they are more vulnerable and fresh right after an event when their their mind feels happy and free. One where I’ve had the privilege of being there to greet them.
I’m afraid this sacred sharing time may be coming to a bit of a halt, and I’m not happy about it.
My oldest will be getting his driver’s license in a matter of months. He’s worked hard for it. He wants the freedom to drive around on his own and go to the gym and visit friends without his mother tagging along for the ride.
I’ve been my kids’ taxi driver for a really long time and I’m looking forward to the help — it only makes sense if he’s going to drive himself to school to take his brother and sister too. But I’m not as excited about it as I thought I’d be.
I mean, I’ll be left with more time on my hands to scrub the floors and work and do things for me. But the other day when my son got out of the car after a 20-minute ride during which we talked about how he used to have to sleep with every stuffed animal he owned and that time he pooped in the tub and tried to catch it, I realized something. If he had been driving here on his own, that bonding session never would have happened.
He would have driven himself to his friend’s house while I stayed home and weeded the garden or plucked my brows. When he brings his siblings home after school, the chance for me to get tidbits about their latest crushes, or who’s going with who to the school dance, or grabbing an ice cream together, won’t happen.
Sure, I’ll be more organized while my son feels more capable and independent. But this is a freedom I’m not really excited about.
I could be selfish and drive him around anyway, stripping him of a goal he’s worked for because I’m so afraid of missing something in my kids’ lives. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. The teen years have put more distance between me and my kids than I am comfortable with. The talks, the moments, the words exchanged are increasing in value, as I know their time with me will be up soon.
My first child getting his license and driving off without me was something I knew would be a bit emotional about. However, I didn’t know it would drag out tears and make him roll his eyes and tell me to “get a hold of myself” every time I reminded him of how many weeks he had until he’d be driving on his own. Which I do a lot these days.
It’s just another one of those things my child can’t wait to do without me, something I’m trying to clutch onto because I know what’s coming around the corner.
You’d think through the years parents would get better at letting go, but it just keeps getting harder. First, it’s the walking, then it’s the driving. The next thing you know, you are moving them into a dorm room or apartment, knowing you’re leaving a slice of your soul behind.
I can give my kids room to sprawl out and grow and evolve. But I’m not promising I won’t hop in that car a few times a month and take a much-needed ride, even if it inconveniences them.
Because really, the fact that they are growing up and needing me less is cramping my style. I figure it’s the least they can do for their mom.