Manic: Me, more times than I want to admit, as I sat in the passenger seat every day this summer teaching my son how to drive. He is anxiously counting down the days until his permit becomes his license. I am also anxiously counting down those days, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a nervous grin.
Managed: Letting go and letting him do the driving with less words and more calm energy as I sat strapped in my seat beat watching him literally take the wheel in more ways than one. At one point, he told me, “Mom you have to let me do this because in just two months, I will be driving this car without you” and boy did that hit me.
He was right, I thought to myself. I also thought about how much easier my life will be when I don’t need to drive him to the many places that he needs to be like practice, schedule pickups, new shoes, a dentist appointment or to choose a new tie for a school dance.
Some of those errands have been a real chore, but some have been special trips together to buy skates for a new hockey season or to see him excited as we drove him to redeem his Christmas gift card for golf lessons.
As I sat there in the passenger seat biting my lip, I realized that the roots part is over. Now it is all about working on his wings and a big part of that is about me letting go. Yes, it does makes life easier in a lot of ways, but it is harder than I thought it would be.
I now realize that he is right and that when he gets that license in just a few short months, he will be driving off to do the many things he needs to do without me. Without me next to him making sure that the crazy driver speeding through the yellow light isn’t going to hit my son because I’m able to warn my boy that he is coming. And on the fun side of things, he will now go to buy that handsome tie for his school dance without me there, offering my fashionable opinion….however if he asks me to come along, you bet that I will!
Without me he will go to hockey practice and I won’t be forced to wait at the rink or drag myself back two hours later, which had become more challenging because the older kids go on the ice late into the evening. Some practices didn’t finish up until almost 10pm last year. So that will be nice. And I won’t miss the stinky aroma that fills the car when a 15-year-old sweaty kid and his hockey bag get in the vehicle.
But I will miss the conversations about how practice went and what is happening with friends, classes and any other interesting tidbits that I would sometimes enjoy if I got lucky and he wanted to chat. You see riding in the car with him is the time that he would converse with me the most.
So I will miss this time, but mostly I am anxious about the wings part of this parenting gig. Have we done everything we can to arm him with good common sense? Did we tell him enough to listen to his gut and make good decisions, both behind the wheel and outside of the car? Will he choose to NOT text and drive? Will he know to not operate a vehicle if he comes out of hockey practice feeling exhausted and light headed? What happens when he encounters his first blinding Arizona dust storm coming home from one of our rinks? They practice at several different ones. Ugh…I am now making my own head spin! Manic versus managed thinking for sure!
The best we can do is the best that we can do and we have done our best. We poured out our heart and soul as we worked on the roots part of parenting him the last 15 years. I actually feel pretty good about his wings, albeit they are brand new, delicate and flexible. With each day that he drives his ol’ Mom around town, I see those wings becoming more sturdy with the confidence that builds up with the miles that he drives.
We put him behind the wheel almost every day this summer. We put him in a driving school. We had him drive us on most of the busy freeways that Phoenix sports, during rush hour, in the rain and at night. We even let him drive us all the way to Palm Springs and back when we went to Disneyland. He did really well.
Some of his anxious driving moves were my fault. Because sometimes I let my stress get the best of me and I reacted too suddenly and that would freak him out. So I had to learn that sitting in the passenger seat meant teaching, but it also meant letting go, being relaxed and working with him to make good driving decisions. And then finally sitting quietly, so that I was really letting him make the decisions. That wasn’t always easy and I must admit I cursed more than once in a very loud voice. I had to stop doing that, too. That wasn’t setting a very good example, but that also reminded me that parents are human, too.
And as we work on his wings, we are working on my wings, too…..my wings that will help me to fly away from the nest gradually so that I’m not left with empty nest syndrome as my kiddos get closer to their final flight away from home in just a few short years.
The good news is that the wings part of this journey is pretty fun, for the most part. Enjoying more adult activities together, like PG-13 movies and nice restaurants. They are great travelers. When we visit museums, now we all stop to read about the exhibits, instead of rushing through it. Maybe that is why I’m finding the wings part of this job so bittersweet, because they are so enjoyable and almost like little adults a lot of the time.
As my son drove us to drop my girl off at her first solo babysitting job a few weeks back, I choked back a few tears. I didn’t dare show either one of them that because they would have teased me for sure. I also didn’t let it show because I didn’t want to take one moment away from the confidence and pride that they were both enjoying with their new found privileges of being able to drive and babysit.
Those two events and my son’s statement about letting go made me reflect on these exciting days of building wings. And until the day comes that the wings are fully constructed and we are forced to watch them fly away, I will enjoy every moment of these next few years….even the daily knucklehead moments that are also part of being a teenager.
For those of you reading this who have been through the parenting phase of wing-building and releasing, what is your best advice? This is truly a time of joy, anxiety, fun and a few tears. Working on the wings as a parent is definitely bittersweet.
P.S. As I finished this article, I had to yell at both of them for fighting over the TV in the next room! These are the days!