Yesterday, my teenage daughter left the house at noon and climbed into a car with two young men. This might raise the eyebrows of most moms, but in my case it also raised my blood pressure. Significantly.
My daughter was going for a driving lesson.
Not just any lesson, mind you, but a two-hour trip to a major highway a few towns away. This learning to drive thing is taking years off my life!
Granted, she has already passed her permit test. She has already sat through thirty hours (thirty hours!) of driver's education. She's had six hours of professional instruction (plus three in the backseat "observing" other students). And, seemingly countless informal practice sessions with her father and her aunt. My daughter is bright and capable, careful and sober. In fact, one teacher told her she did the best rotary he'd ever seen, and another that she was a "parallel parking pro."
So why am I a basket case?
First, I'd like to blame my upbringing. Growing up in midtown Manhattan, I was rarely in a car, much less behind the wheel. This was the norm, not the exception. I don't know of a single classmate who graduated high school with a license in her wallet. Many of my hometown friends still don't drive. For myself, it wasn't until I moved from my Back Bay apartment to a Boston suburb (at the age of 28) that I finally learned.
Today, I consider driving a necessary evil. Give me a public transportation system any day. (All right, maybe a Zip Car on the weekend.)
Not so, my daughter. Growing up outside of a city, she has been looking forward to saying "hello" to her license and "bye-bye" to her lovin' mother. In March, once she (assumedly) passes her road test, she'll be taking herself to and from the stable five times a week. I won't know what to do with all that extra time. Of course, technically, I won't be able to do anything because I'll be paralyzed with fear until she returns.
Another reason I'm so nervous is that about two weeks before my daughter passed her permit test, I was in an accident. Nothing major, but enough to rattle my nerves. A woman in a humongous (or so it certainly seemed that morning) SUV ran a red light and blindsided me at a busy intersection. I wasn't hurt, but she did manage to rack up over a thousand dollars in damage to the front end of my car. I found myself a much more timid driver for a couple of months afterwards. This can't have helped as I pictured my girl behind the wheel.
I've only driven with her twice. The first time, it was just the couple of miles from her grandmother's house to ours. I almost had a heart attack — seriously. The longest ten minutes ever recorded, let me tell you. The second time was a couple of months later. We were heading down to New York City for New Year's. My husband pulled over at a rest area on the Mass Pike (THE MASS PIKE!!!!!!!) and let her drive the twenty miles or so to the next rest area.
Where was I through all this? Curled up in the backseat with my iPhone earbuds in, listening to music, eyes closed, with a pillow over my head, and praying to God, Buddha, Yahwe, Allah ... pretty much anyone who would listen.
When we finally pulled off the highway (did I mention it was THE MASS PIKE?????), I sheepishly congratulated her. "I'm really proud of you," I told her, breathing deeply to quell my hyperventilation. "It's not you," I shrugged. "It's me."
But, that's the thing. I've come to realize it isn't just me. Despite an urban upbringing and the recent fender bender, it isn't just me. Every mother with whom I've compared notes (and there've been several) went through — or is going through — exactly the same reaction. Younger moms. Older moms. Calm, cool, collected moms. Moms who have picked up their daughters' front teeth off a skating rink floor, popped them in milk and driven them (teeth and daughter) to the ER.
Here's what I hear most often ... "Oh, I can't drive with her. I let her father do it." Hallelujah! I'm not alone. This anxiety is clearly bigger than I am.
Somehow the idea of our babies (yes, sorry honey, you will always be my baby) driving runs counter to everything we know, believe and hold dear. Before they even leave our wombs, it's our job to keep them safe. How can we do our job when they get behind the wheel and drive away?
"Will you ever drive with me?" my daughter sulks.
"Yes," I tell her. "Soon." Well, someday.
Maybe we aren't just practicing for her real driver's license. Maybe we're practicing for her real life.
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