Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The view from the passenger seat

I am not fond of driving. Not at all. I’ve often said that the singular drawback to living in Carlisle is all the time we spend driving places. Whether it’s for work, school, socializing, recreation, dining, or culture, we seem to be forever taking up a position behind the wheel.

Still, I never expected I’d have my own driver. I don’t even have regular cleaning help; the idea of someone to drive me around on errands or appointments was well beyond my imagining.

And yet that’s just the situation I’m in right now. My son Tim is in that narrow six-month time frame between receiving his learner’s permit and earning his driver’s license, an interlude in which the rules stipulate both that he must gain as much driving experience as possible and that he must do so under the watchful eye of a licensed and experienced driver.

So these days, Tim drives. He drives me to the supermarket and the drugstore, the post office and the library. He drives when we visit my parents. He drives when we drop off or pick up his younger sister from school or playdates. After three full decades of driving myself around, I now have someone whose assignment, and indeed whose pleasure, it is to drive me places.

This is not a developmental phase of childhood that I foresaw. I assumed Tim would want to learn to drive eventually, but as that benchmark loomed, I saw it mostly as a source of anxiety. How would I teach him the rules of the road? How would I explain how much room to give a car when passing, or what the perfect angle was for parallel parking?

But rather than being anxious, as I expected, I’m enjoying Tim’s company along with his chauffeuring services. He stopped wanting to join me for grocery shopping or other random errands at least ten years ago; given the choice, he would always opt to stay home. It’s fun spending more time together again. Moreover, it’s fun merely to see his enthusiastic response when I ask if he wants to go somewhere with me, even if I know that in truth his enthusiasm is more about the driving practice than about my company.

It’s not a time for intense mother-son dialogue. I don’t bring up college choices, or current events, or the moral and ethical dilemmas that teenagers typically face. He’s supposed to be concentrating on the road. But in a way, that’s what makes it so peaceful. It’s just the two of us, spending time close together without an agenda to cover or decisions to contemplate. It reminds me a little bit of the hours I spent roaming the neighborhood with him in a jog stroller or baby backpack when he was an infant. I was never one of those mothers who chatters nonstop to her small children. On those long, quiet walks or runs, it was all about the proximity, not the discourse.

So many developmental phases with children and teens are about growing apart, letting them finding their independence, allowing them to forge their own way. This period of driving together is one milestone that brings us closer together, even if more by regulation than by Tim’s choice. It’s a brief, tightly circumscribed interlude: only six months altogether, if he earns his license on the first try, and half of that time is already gone.

So I’ll just enjoy my chauffeur until the day he turns sixteen and a half. It’s nice to be driven around, and knowing it won’t last much longer, I’ll savor it all the more. He’ll eventually get his license, and then he’ll drive on his own, just as someday he will probably live on his own and spend even less time with me. For now, I’ll take all the time together that I can get. To me, it’s quality time, even if as far is Tim is concerned, all we’re doing is following the rules of the road.

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