January, 2006. Yesterday, I had a perfect opportunity to break the law. My children had orthodontist appointments, but for the first time since getting braces, one of them had a driver’s license. I didn’t have to go!
Not that driving down to F Street should compare to the L.A. commute — the office is barely across town and hardly a taxing drive — but I’d been waiting 16 years to have an excuse not to go somewhere with my kids. From sports practices to doctors’ appointments to dropping off at three different schools each day, I had exhausted my will to chauffeur. So when Monday’s calendar reminded me of the 9 a.m. checkup, I smiled as I poured coffee. I didn’t have to go! I could exercise, run errands, do my work … but I didn’t have to go!
Our 16-year old has had his license for a month, making him — according to rules that applied when I was 16 — an able driver. My husband warned me of the new law (the law prohibiting new drivers from driving with siblings or anyone under age 25 in the car for the first year); I ignored the warning. I was trying to bask in my good fortune. I didn’t have to go to another orthodontist appointment — ever! We parents are busy, after all, right?
As I stood at the curb in my pajamas, though, waving when they drove away, the lens of my internal “Mommy-Cam” narrowed, and gradually the image that came into focus wasn’t of two young teens going to get their braces tightened, it was of two baby chicks learning to fly too soon. I saw an empty nest. How busy was I really? I watched the truck until I lost sight, silently berating myself for my silly sentimentality.
Five minutes later, I couldn’t stand it.
I allowed them to get from our home in Rosedale to the Rite Aid on Coffee Road before I reached them by cell phone and told them to pull over — I was coming to get them. Good natured, they humored me and waited. As we rode together, we talked. Probably about nothing important. Nevertheless, we were together in the same car, which will become a novelty in upcoming years.
Even though it seems like forever, our children are not actually with us for very long. For example, if you were to draw 80 squares on a piece of paper to represent 80 years of your child’s expectant life, then you shaded just 18 of those boxes, the shaded boxes would represent less than 25 percent of your child’s life — the wee portion of their lives in which parents get to actively participate. Why rush through it?
As we drove downtown, I used the opportunity to give some pointers to my newly licensed son. A driver’s license does not automatically a great driver make, so he listened while I went over rules of the road he surely thought he knew already. Again, he humored me. At $200 per month in insurance, he better.
I was glad I didn’t let him drive with his sister. I’ve seen the statistics and know that most 16-year old drivers get into accidents because of distractions, but despite the facts, most parents count the days until our kids can help with the driving.
We drove our friends, we drove our siblings, and nothing happened to us, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case any more, and I am embarrassed that I so flagrantly ignored a law designed to protect the very people I treasure most in the world.
By the time we returned to Rite Aid, we had talked and laughed and even took the time to eat together. My children probably won’t remember that day, but I will. As I watched my son drive away, I saw him once more through the lens of that internal camera that just keeps rolling — no matter how desperately I try to push pause. Look at him grow up, I thought. Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were with me night and day? Sixteen boxes down, two to go. Lord, let it be unhurried.
Be careful what you wish for. Here is the same truck, leaving for Florida for Spring Training exactly four years later.