My son turned 16 earlier this month. A milestone year. For all concerned. I wanted to honor it appropriately, but there is no “sweet 16” tradition for the boys. When I went to pick out a greeting card, there was a shelf devoted to pink and frilly cards for girls turning 16 but nothing for the boys. Nothing. I was so annoyed, I left the store empty handed. Resentful of overpriced greeting cards, I am regularly disgusted with the dearth of cards for boys and men. I should boycott the whole greeting card thing, but I love presenting a loved one with a meaningful card. It seems that only women are the target audience for greeting cards. The ones for men swing between the extremes of crude (Beer and Boobs!) and earnest (“Son, we are so proud.”) I am particularly DONE with cards for “Husband” that show a silhouette of a young man and a young woman, perhaps with a baby. Ummm. Been there done that. A long time ago. I don’t see myself or my husband or my son in these cards.
I went back to the overpriced card store a few days later, still annoyed. (Papyrus. I hate it. Who pays $8.99 for a greeting card! Oh. Wait. I do.) I was drawn to the juvenile section with its simple and bright designs. The completely adorable pirate hat reminded me of his 5th birthday when pirates were the theme. Nostalgic, I bought it. I reread the earnest “Son, we are so proud” card. Maybe it’s not so hokey. Proud of him, I bought it. But the card I probably should have gotten was the race car card. Driving. Sixteen. Rite of Passage. Here we go!
My son and I are deeply bonded. There is a connection between us that is so strong it takes my breath away. But over the past year, he has increased the separation between us. As he should. Spending time with friends, asserting his differences from me, aligning with my husband, his dad. Besides, I regularly fall into the role of nagging mom, so why wouldn’t he want to move far away from that? Clearly, we will need to carve out new ways to be with each other as he grows older.
I remember teaching my daughter to drive, several years ago. She too had been moving away from me. But these hugely significant growing up activities, like learning to drive and choosing a college, bring them back. Excited to separate, but kind of scared, they tuck right back into the safe embrace of home.
Every weekend we had our driving time together. In the beginning, it was rocky and terrifying. White knuckled, I would exclaim: Watch out for the car! You are too close to the curb! Slow down! But gradually, we moved from the empty parking lot, to the quiet neighborhood, to the slower side streets. She gained confidence and skills. We developed a little routine for our Sunday drives, jaunting over to the next town or two or three, stopping for a coffee or some other treat. And talking. There is something about being in the car together that facilitates conversation. The bond had loosened, so that it could change. Through our driving times, it reintegrated. At a more mature level.
By the time she got her license, a year had passed and she was 17. A lot of maturing happens in a year at that age. She was ready. Of course, letting her get into that car and drive alone was terrifying to me. And, frankly, it marked a huge step toward independence. Getting in that car. Alone. Leading her life. I missed our Sunday driving sessions. I missed her. As a parent, you want to protect them and keep them safe forever. But they have to lead their lives, make their own mistakes. You just pray that they don’t die in the process. And cars are scary. Terrifying. Mass * Velocity = Potentially Fatal Accident.
Nagging mother that I am, I told my son, I will take you to get your learner’s permit as soon as you turn 16, but you better study the manual and do the practice tests. You can get a crummy grade in math, but you can’t get a crummy grade in driving. Your life is at stake.
As the day got closer, he took it more and more seriously. So did I. He took the practice tests. We reviewed the questions he got wrong. When we drove somewhere, I talked through all the rules and choices I was making as I drove, suddenly aware of the multiple nuanced calculations one mindlessly makes when one drives. I quizzed him on the rules of the road. He assured me that he knew them. “Don’t worry Mom, I know the rites of passage.” I smiled. He meant rules of the road, but – as usual – I liked his way of saying it better. Indeed he does know the rites of passage.
And the rules of the road. He passed.