“Mom, will you take me to Sonic?” This request, which always ends with a different locale, is constant from my two teenage boys — especially in the summer, when boredom apparently is more draining than the 100-degree temps.
It seems never ending. But it isn’t.
I realize, as Driving Teen’s 16th birthday approaches this month, that I can count on one hand the number of times I will again hear the question from him. As is so often the case in parenting, I am starting to fully grasp how much I will miss those words now that they will be absent from our daily, sometimes hourly, conversation.
Of course, it’s not the driving I will miss. It’s the miles of interaction I’m not sure how to replicate.
For almost 16 years — really, almost 16 years plus nine months — I have spent an inordinate amount of time taking him where he needs to go. Of course, it’s not the driving I will miss. It’s the miles of interaction I’m not sure how to replicate.
Before any big milestone in their lives, my kids have been equal parts needy and cranky: crawling, walking, talking, weaning, spending half a day at school, spending the entire day at school, overnight camp. Then there was a long gap of slow and steady growing up, with the long days and fast years we hear about when we’re haven’t-slept-through-the-night-in-three-years young parents but never completely buy into.
Driving seems to have taken us right back into the pattern.
Driving Teen wants to be with us a lot these days, especially if he can be with us while he’s driving. And he spends much of that time behind the wheel talking about how soon he will spend so much time without us.
I spend a lot of that time wondering why we didn’t put a chip in his head, as my husband has always told him we did when he was an infant.
This milestone is huge.
Of course, there is the pure animal fear that comes with watching your child drive off in a two-ton vehicle of death and depravity, as we see it; they see it as fun and freedom. I’ve watched his older friends do it, stood there emotionally open-mouthed like they were toddlers spouting off the quadratic equation in Latin.
He’s old enough to drive himself. He needs me less. That’s the point of parenting, right?
We’ve all been 16. We’re all lucky to be alive. These are the thoughts that bounce around in my head like ninja death stars as I try to drift off to sleep.
But how did I not see the rest of it? The thousands of words exchanged between the two of us — or he and a friend — as I drove to rock climbing practice in Grapevine or Addison several days a week for six years. Or the sleepy sentences muttered on the way to 6 am swim team practice.
The loud gangsta rap, laughter, farts, yelling and stuff I probably don’t want to know went on behind my seat that filled my car with chaos and character. How he used to decorate my car windows with stickers when he was little, help me search for the mysterious smell under my seats, and beg to sit in the front seat.
The stinky boys piled in on the way to TC Shaved Ice when it was too hot to be in school but we hadn’t quite made our way to summer.
When he actually was old enough to move up front, he was so in my space. Touching the radio, the A/C, putting his feet up on the dash, grabbing my phone. And where in the hell was I supposed to put my purse? My husband loved it. It was easier to talk to him up there. He knew.
Suddenly, last week, it was the last day I took him to school and, later, the last time I picked him up.
With the shift of a gear, our roles reversed. As he drives his 2004 Mustang (judge me, then let’s move on), I am now the visitor up front.
“Let’s goooo,” he just said to me. Oh, he’ll continue to say it. We’re going on a three-week road trip this summer. We’ll all go out to dinner, to the KC Pool, to movies. He’ll be grounded from his car at some point, no doubt, and will have to endure the humiliation of my driving him to school once again. Maybe even in his Mustang, because it is fun.
But it’ll be different. He’s old enough to drive himself. He needs me and will see me less. That’s the point of parenting, right?
This short-term arrangement of all of us living together under the same roof, riding together on the same four wheels, feels so permanent — like marrying your first husband. I remember once looking at my then 11-year-old while we were driving and acutely feeling how much I would miss him one day. Because his older brother was then 14. And so very different from 11.
You never get that 11-year-old back. At 15, he is similar. At 18, you still recognize him, of course. But you have that 11-year-old, 2-year-old, 8-year-old, 13-year-old for only moments in time. And then he is gone, soon to be evolved into an older version you’ll be amazed by yet miss just as much one day.
And so it will be with 16.
In less than three years, New Teen will have his driver’s license, and Driving Teen (hopefully) will be back home from college for the summer. And I will have plenty of space for my purse. I will listen to NPR with no apologies and drive quietly with no stickers, few farts or other unidentifiable smells.
And I will smile with a flash of memories when I no doubt run across a Gatorade bottle crammed under the seat.