"Yeah," he says. Pause. "'Til what?" he asks, looking at me like I am crazy, which is his usual way of looking at me.
"Until your driving lesson! Aaah! So exciting!"
"Oh yeah. Thank you," he replies, a smile stretching across his face.
"Bye, Mom." He reaches out to give me hug.
"Bye, honey. Have a good day." I hug him back, a part of me not wanting to let go. Maybe if I hold on long enough, tight enough, I can somehow transform him into the little boy he once was.
"You, too," he says, and he is gone.
That was yesterday, and now I am watching the clock, counting down the hours until his first driving lesson. I can't help but remember how I felt when I was his age. Like him, I couldn't wait to learn how to drive. I had quietly observed my dad from the back seat on those long summer drives to Montana to visit my grandparents. I had it down, I just knew it. Driving was going to be a piece of cake.
Jared makes similar statements and I caution him that it isn't as easy as it looks. This whole driving thing takes on new meaning now that I am the parent. When I was his age, I couldn't understand my parents' worry. Driving was easy, and my years of watching my mom and dad behind the wheel had evidently paid off because I felt like a natural at it. So what was their problem?
Their problem wasn't me at all. I get that now. It was everybody and everything else. The parts I couldn't control. Whenever I would leave the house, my dad would offer one of two pieces of advice (or both): "Go with caution" and "Watch out for the other idiots." (When I got older, he traded the word "idiots" for another, more colorful noun, but we'll stick with the tamer version here.) Then there was the directive to call home when I got to where I was going.
Now it's my turn. I'm really not that nervous about Jared being in the driver's seat, but I am worried about all the other idiots who will be driving around him. The ones who have been drinking or doing drugs. The ones who think they can text and drive at the same time. The ones who think speed limits and red lights are for everybody else. The ones who simply don't know what the hell they're doing. I know they're out there every time I get behind the wheel to drive my son wherever he needs to go. Somehow that's different. Because I'm there, to look out for him and to protect him. And I won't be there to do those things once he takes the wheel.
"Mom. You want to go for a drive when I get back from my driving lesson?" Jared asks.
"Really?" I am shocked. He has told me on several occasions that he doesn't want me to teach him to drive. He seems to think I'm too uptight or something.
"As long as you promise not to scream or anything," he explains. Ah, there's a catch.
I can't stop the grimace from appearing on my face. No screaming allowed? I'm not sure about that. "We'll see. We'll see how the lesson goes."
It's the final countdown. Fifteen minutes until his appointment. My heart is beating a little faster and I feel slightly out of breath. I try not to let it show. This is his moment. I wonder if he feels nervous, but I don't ask. I choose to focus not on the anxiousness this moment brings but only the excitement because that is what this occasion calls for. That's what my son needs from me.
I think back to all the other important moments in my son's life when I felt nothing but excitement. I wasn't sad when he learned to walk because he was no longer an infant. I celebrated it for the milestone that it was. This is no less of a milestone. And while I can focus on the dangers of this particular one, I would be dishonest not to acknowledge that in a two-story house, learning to walk came with its own dangers. Those were no less real; they just seem that way because they were so long ago and this is now. Despite all the anxiety of watching him toddle up and down stairs, first with me and then on his own, I never even thought about preventing him from learning to walk. It was a necessary part of growing up, just as this is now.
Jared waits, perched on the arm of the couch, facing the window overlooking the street. He never does that.
"Bye," he suddenly calls to me in the kitchen.
"Wait. What?" All the hours of anticipation are over. The moment is here.
"They're here." He heads toward the door.
I follow him out. I shake hands with the instructor and try to hide my nervousness. He seems nice, and I'm oddly relieved that the car Jared will be driving is a VW, which is what I learned to drive. It seems right.
"Are you going with us?" asks Robert, the instructor.
"No," I laugh. "I don't think he wants me to."
"Good luck, Jared!" I call out as he heads toward the car and opens the door. The driver's side door.
I stand back and watch as the instructor guides Jared through seat and mirror adjustments. And then, with a bit of a lurch and a bounce over the driveway curb, they are off. Tears gather as I watch him drive slowly down the street away from me until he is no longer in view.
Go with caution, my boy.