Editor’s Pick
JULY 6, 2011 4:23PM

Ready or Not, There she Goes

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It is a worn out story at my house: the one where I confess to the crying jag that occurred when my first child was three days old.  My husband came in the room and asked, “Are we happy?”


It was hard for him to know during those first few days of parenthood whether I was crying from joy, exhaustion, frustration, or some mysterious cocktail of all three, so he knew to proceed with caution.


“She’s going to get her driver’s license!” I wailed, sobbing anew, holding all 7lbs, 12oz closer and staring at the curve of her impossibly perfect and inconceivably fragile head. In the midst of worrying about a healthy pregnancy, a safe delivery, and a predictably happy outcome, it had never occurred to me that something could happen to her once she was here.  Or, more accurately, it hadn’t occurred to me as anything but an abstraction.


But now here she was, utterly dependent on me and her father for food, shelter, and safety.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to protect her from the small dangers that loomed ahead in childhood: the massive bump on her forehead she earned while learning to stand right before her first birthday, the stitches in her elbow when she was ten, the broken heart when the coveted part in the musical didn’t come her way.  But how could I possibly protect her from the big ones?  SIDS.  Leukemia.  Genetic disorders.  Getting behind the wheel of a car.  For the most part, the “big” dangers were amorphous and hypothetical; possible, but statistically unlikely.  But driving had hard edges of glass and steel.  Imagining her getting into a car and driving away from me was emblematic of everything that terrified me about parenthood.


My husband smoothed back my hair and kissed my forehead.  


"Yep," he said with a soft chuckle.  "If we do this right, she's going to do lots of things." 


I soon learned that being a parent requires living in that odd space between holding on and letting go.  “Life is,” as Linda Loman famously said, “a casting off.”  I remember the first time I got in the car and drove away from my daughter--when she was three days old and I left her with her grandmother for less than an hour.  I also remember her marching away from me to preschool, riding away from me on her bike, getting onto a plane without me.  Soon, I will watch her drive away.


Fortunately, I have made friends with that nearly imperceptible tightness I feel in my chest when she’s off doing something new or with someone I don’t know.  Often, I don’t feel it until it eases:  when she walks in the door and flops onto the couch, or ditches her backpack on the kitchen counter, or leaves her shoes at the door and tosses a “Hi, Mom,” over her shoulder as she pounds up the stairs. 


As I sat in the waiting area while she took the test for her temporary driver’s permit last week, I didn’t know what to hope for.  Part of me wanted her to fail so I’d have proof that she wasn’t ready, wasn’t mature enough, didn’t know as much as she thought she did.  Then I would have an excuse to make her wait.  But as I sat there, I found instead that I had started to hope she would pass.  When she did, she didn’t stop grinning for the next two hours, and I found myself grinning along with her, right through my terror and worry and love. Besides, she's not going anywhere just yet--not with out me or her father beside her.  When she does, she'll be ready, even if I'm not.




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a beautiful vignette of a mother's love. It's a tearing thing, to want their independence and self assurance and abilities to shine and the need and want to shelter them...lines are hard to find sometime--they're wavy and they move. I had a similar experience with my own beautiful daughter, and wrote about it here and, if you're interested, it includes the driving contract we wrote for our kids.

Best wishes and good luck for all of you.
Yes, this was my nightmare from the day she was born... and you express it beautifully! My daughter earned her license 8 weeks ago, and after 6 weeks of "baby steps" she drove 45 miles on the freeway to Magic Mountain and back -- without a hitch. I was sick all day. Even though she may actually be a better driver than I am. Goo dluck.
This is really very lovely. I have discovered (to my dismay) that a big part of being a mother is the letting go...~r
Wonderful, tender and oh so true! The truth of that last line is one of the hardest in parenting.
I only experienced this kind of angst vicariously observing friends and nephew since I'm not a parent, but your writing makes the feelings real and live once again.
My daughter was hopeless as a driver. She only passed her driving test because of pity from the tester. She knew she was bad, and so never drove all the way through high school and college. Then, she got a job and had to drive. We got her an old car and my wife and I held our breath and said a prayer. But so far so good. The phone call about a crash or a fender bender never came. But I guess when you're a parent, you never stop worrying. I wish your daughter good luck!
You told your story well! A mother's love shines through here! Good luck to both you and your daughter!
Your wonderful post brought to mind the day that my own daughter turned sixteen and drove away from me for the first time. It was perhaps the most difficult thing I'd ever seen her do. I still worry about her when she's driving (or taking public transportation or driving with friends!). I send her imperatives to 'drive safely' - 'watch out for the idiots' - safe travels ... and ask that she let me know when she is at her destination safely. There have been calls over the years ... minor crashes, mechanical failures, etc. which cause my heart to leap in my chest. But I'm grateful that she's a good driver, a careful one ... and so caring that she pages me often when she's in route. May the gods keep our children safe! Good 'car-ma' to you and your girl.
I do not have children, and when I read about that "tightness in my chest," I think parenthood would be too much for me. You strike such a lovely and perhaps frightening balance.