Recently, I saw several moms on Facebook denouncing those who choose to drive their kids to school. “It will spoil her,” they said. “She needs to be independent and catch the bus.” Many parents would agree with them. After all, there are plenty of school buses filled with students that lumber down our small city’s streets.
But unlike those other parents, I choose to drive my daughter, and have been doing so since she started elementary school. I wake up to drive her early in the morning. Every afternoon, I’m waiting in the car rider line as she exits the doors like a salmon swimming upstream among the throngs of students spilling out of the brick building at 3 p.m.
I want to treasure this time with my daughter while I have it. Sweet 16 looms ahead of us and soon after she’ll be driving herself to school. Meanwhile, this daily drop off and pick up has become a precious window leading to moments of mother-daughter bonding. It’s a rare time when neither of us is doing anything else and she is my (somewhat) captive audience.
Which is why, as we make the 10-minute drive to our local high school, I’m pointing out the first fingers of rosy light in the east to my less-than-enthusiastic daughter.
“Look at it!” I say, as the sun peeks over the courthouse. “It’s so pretty.”
If I’m lucky, she’ll admire it with me.
Most days aren’t so magical. She’s a ninth grader. We have transitioned into the teen phase where she hibernates in her room and rarely wants to go anywhere with mom. She gives one syllable responses to questions. Her inner world is often a mystery.
There are days when she immediately puts on her headphones and turns up the angsty music so loud I can hear the tinny beat leaking from her ears. Other days, she pretty much has a Do Not Disturb sign on her forehead. I’ve learned never, ever to ask, “how was your day,” a seemingly bland question that results in a snarl at worst, and a “fine,” at best. Sometimes I really miss when she was a chatterbox and willingly shared her thoughts, feelings, and daily life.
But then there are other days when we bask in a companionable silence. Occasionally, we’ll talk about current news events going on around the world. Or I might volunteer a story about something that happened in my day.
To draw her out, I get creative with a new tradition. We soften Mondays and celebrate Fridays with an after-school stop at Starbucks for a mango dragon fruit refresher, or we stop at Dunkin’ for a strawberry rainbow sprinkle donut.
I find fun ways to frame questions that elicit longer answers.
Sometimes, I’m rewarded with a conversation more detailed than I dared hope for. I hear about an incident in the gym, or a funny thing a classmate said, or an aggravating moment in math class, and this is how I know these daily drives in the car are a little oasis of peace, for our mother-daughter relationship, amid her turbulent teen years.
Since we are a household of two, there is no buffer between us. We’ve had our share of fights as we both navigate these uncharted teenage years. My daughter might not cherish the daily drive now as much as I do, but maybe someday she’ll reflect on them with fondness. In the meantime, I’ll keep driving my daughter, and I’ll savor these days enough for the both of us.