Who is this kid sitting next to me, this stranger I have known since he lay curled in my womb? He grips the wheel with feigned confidence; our lives are in his 15-year-old hands. With the coveted driver’s permit tucked in his wallet, Aaron is learning how to drive.
He goes through the four-point safety check: seat adjusted, seatbelt buckled, mirrors tweaked, all’s clear to the right, left and center. He gently shifts the car in gear, and we roll out of the garage.
It’s a blindingly sunny day, and in the glare, I suddenly see my husband, and not Aaron, in the driver’s seat next to me. Aaron, our brand new baby boy, is actually in the back seat, swaddled and strapped in his car seat, his head bobbing slightly as he dozes. He is oblivious to the fundamental shift he has caused in our existence. He has turned this couple into a family.
Seeing Your Baby Take the Wheel
Where are we headed now?
“Right or left,” Aaron asks, bringing me 15 years forward.
“Left,” I say, wishing all the questions he has been asking lately were this easy to answer.
“Why can’t I have a beer, Mom? What if they think I’m a loser for not smoking pot, Mom? How do I ask her out, Mom, and what if she says no?” But, a simple, “Right or left?” I can take pitches like that all day.
As we inch out onto Route 36, I see Aaron inching toward me on that old, blue shaggish carpet in the living room of our first house on Church Road. His arms and legs are flailing. He advances toward me on his tummy, making small forward jerks simply by accident. He looks like a turtle caught on its back, but he’s got that dogged, drooly smile on his face.
I’m laughing, urging him on until I can’t watch him struggle anymore and sweep him into my lap. Then I’m on my back, holding him above me, his face screwed up with sheer exuberance, and I laugh harder. This is the same baby whose ceaseless, pointless crying sent me to the edge of sanity the night before. Surely those sleepless nights are behind us.
Teaching My Teenager to Drive
“Check your rearview mirror,” I advise and watch him glance up, then quickly ahead again, afraid of taking his eyes off the road. If only he’d always be this cautious. Or, if only he’d always be aware of what’s all around him. If only he’d always drive with the radio off, at full attention. If only …
“What’s the speed limit?” I ask.
“How fast are you going?”
“Forty-two,” he admits.
“Slow down. There’s no need to go so fast,” I say, the phrase automatic and worn from years of use.
I see his first wobbly steps, taken with so much confidence and so little grace. Here he comes, his large head out ahead of his careening body, diving headlong for my lap. Slow down, slow down! He tumbles just short of his destination, hitting the floor headfirst. I hold my breath. He pops back up, hand pressed to a spot just over his left eye, but he is jubilant. He can go anywhere now. This child has his own mind and a pair of legs that obey his commands – more or less. He is mobile. Let’s go, Mom!
From Learning to Walk to Learning to Drive
Aaron drives us up the ramp and onto the highway. He contains his exhilaration, but I know that prickly sensation that comes with the discovery of a new level of power and speed. There is no stopping him now. I’m still along for the ride, but my days as sidekick are numbered. I know it, and somewhere in his heart, Aaron knows it. Beneath recent acts of teenage rebellion, I catch glimpses of uncertainty, fear, and even sadness. The inevitability of our separation grips us both. But, his experience vibrates with a breathless anticipation, whereas mine is seared with sorrow, riddled with fretfulness and mindless with worry. I struggle daily to keep my drama separate from his, to show him my best face and lick my wounds in private.
“Hey,” I say, conspiratorially, “Open her up. Let’s see what this puppy can do.”
Aaron grins at me and hits the gas. I know he won’t go over the speed limit, so it’s a cheap thrill. But, he is rapturous. I see drool forming in the corner of his mouth – but no, it’s just the sunlight toying with me. He does look like his dad. And me. But mostly, he looks like a young man who is going places. Smiling, I lean back in my seat, close my eyes and hang on tight.