How One Piece of Paper Changes Parenting
I’m not going to lie… I cried.
Today was my youngest child’s drivers test. The last of my little birdies to be launched into the world of driving themselves. She was scheduled to get it in June on her birthday but because of all the shut downs, her big day was postponed. I know she was bummed, especially with a fun little convertible sitting in the driveway waiting for her. But I wasn’t. I enjoyed the bonus two months of driving around with her because I know from previous experience, everything changes when that license comes. It’s the end of an era.
For 22 years I have been what I call a PUBER—I have been their personal uber, and now my job is done. They no longer need my services. I am officially retired, and it feels as if I should get a badge or medal or at the very least a frosted cake thanking me for my service. Of course, there is no cake, engraved watch or group gift but instead the question… “Okay if I drive to my friends house tonight?’”.
Ugh. Swallow hard.
As a parent we go to great lengths to secure our newborn in their car seats. We want them to be safe so we invest in the best car seats, we triple check to be sure it is installed right and we install mirrors all over our car to be sure we can see their little faces when we are driving. We want to protect them, shelter them, and keep them from harms way. Driving a newborn home from the hospital is the quickest way to notice all the terrible drivers on the road.
Over the years we get used to glancing in the rear-view mirror to check on them, they are the most precious cargo we will ever carry. We watch them evolve from helpless babies to enthusiastic toddlers, eager to go on any adventure with us, even if it’s just to Lowe’s or Target. We play nursery songs, the alphabet song, Kidz Bop and find those catchy tunes staying in our head all day. Warning: The Wheels on the Bus go Round, and Round, Round and Round will stay with you all day if you hear it just one time.
In between glances we notice they are suddenly no longer a toddler, but rather a silly kid we can’t imagine our life without. We look back again, and they no longer have their front teeth, they have outgrown the need for a car seat, and they seem to get older overnight. Our rearview mirror shows an ice cream stained smile, a curious little face looking outside the window and someone who no longer falls asleep on car rides but instead asks “Are we there yet?” a hundred times a trip. They climb into our cars after school, exhausted but eager to share and tell us all the exciting things that happened during the day. We listen, we laugh, we hear them unload. We treasure these times because we get a glimpse into their world and we get a front row seat watching it evolve.
The best part of being a PUBER is when they get old enough to have friends join us in the car. We suddenly see another side to our child- they giggle, snicker, sing and chat often forgetting that they have a parent listening. We pretend not to eavesdrop but we learn–boy do we learn–about their classroom, the playground, their friends, their teachers and coaches, and anything important in their lives. We drive on field trips, carpools and to sports practices not because we are bored and need something to fill our schedules but because we love those little humans so much.
Our final glance back finds no one in the back seat because they have moved to sitting next to us. Our littles are no longer little. Riding shotgun becomes a rite of passage, a step towards independence and a big deal. Conversations turn serious and important and often their faces are looking at a screen instead of outside or at us. They take over the radio, ask where the aux cord is and educate us on what new music “recently dropped”. We love those extra-long car rides because they are trapped with us, hostages to our questions and conversation and we take any chance we can get to check in to see how they are doing. We beg for conversation, communication, and connection because we know we are losing that battle called maturity. They are pulling away and while we know it’s normal, it still stings.
These milestones are around us all the time. They keep coming, like it or not. We long for the good old days where we knew where they were, all the time. We want them to be in their beds at night, sitting next to us on the couch or with us in the car because then we know they are safe. And that’s ultimately all a parent wants. It’s hard to let go of certain phases because the truth of it is, we want our kids to stay little, stay adorable, stay innocent and stay close to us. We want them to stay.
But she is ready to be on the go, choosing her own path and navigating her own journey. A driver’s license opens up the world to them but changes so many things for us, the most important (and painful) one is time together. Cue the sniffle.
I’ll miss glancing right to see my co-pilot every morning as we drove to school. We had our play list –Mama Mia or Grease– and we sang as we rode. I’ll miss our short conversations about her day, a test or spilling the tea about what happened at lunch. I’ll miss the days we left early to hit Starbucks, the early mornings we drove to volleyball tournaments in the dark or taking her to Target late at night because there was something she desperately needed and couldn’t wait until the morning to get. I’ll miss a car full of kids (especially teenagers!!), the laughter, the bumping and thumping to the music and the stories. I will miss being her ride, her chauffeur, her transportation, her PUBER. I will miss her.
As exhausting and demanding as being a PUBER was, it was the best job ever. No tip required. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and it’s time I’ll never regret. And while I may not have always gotten a score of 5 stars from my kids, I am okay with that because you know what, they didn’t always get 5 stars from me either. It was a push/pull relationship and our time spent in the car were some of our best and worst moments together but most importantly it was our time together. And the funny tricks of time remind me each day that as I release my kids to the world, I am left with memories and moments that will fill my heart (and theirs) for a lifetime. My kids may be driving themselves, but they will always know the way home.
I cried as my daughter drove off alone for the first time alone because I knew that this was just the beginning of her traveling down many, many roads without us anymore. I won’t be there to hold her hand, warn her of dangers or tell her to look both ways. One piece of paper changes my ability to protect her, keep her safe and it feels like another stage of letting go. Of course, I want her to fly…only not without me but she is ready. I know she will embrace her independence and I know she is ready to spread her wings. My head knows it’s healthy, but my heart knows it is going to hurt for a while.
Anyone need a ride? I know a PUBER that’s available.