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When a teen gets a driver's license, mom is left with memories

I couldn't wait for my son to get his driver's license.

For the last 10 years, ever since my boys started school, I have been stuck behind the steering wheel, carting them to Little League games and dance recitals, drum lessons and play rehearsals, piano lessons and haircuts and birthday parties.

I live by my watch, always anticipating that moment I have to cut out of a meeting or skip lunch to pick them up and take them wherever they need to go.

Then I wait and wait and wait until they're done.

So in October, when Ryland turned 16 and passed his driving test, I scraped together $2,500 and bought him an SUV as old as he is. "If you drive your brother around," I told him, "I'll pay for gas."

I imagined long afternoons writing, never checking the time. Sunset walks with my dogs instead of threading through traffic. Date night movies with my husband without, "Who has to go get the boys?"

I never thought about what I would miss, not being in the driver's seat.

• • •

We spend so many hours in our cars, coming and going. So much of our together time is just taxiing around. I had dismissed those trips as a waste, another thing I had to do.

I hadn't considered the conversations, the inside jokes and anecdotes; singing Neil Young songs, discovering Green Day, watching the world blur by.

During half-hour drives to elementary school, we practiced spelling words and logged license plates, learning all the states. On a drive to middle school, I overheard Ryland telling his brother about a girl. We planned vacations in the car, made Christmas lists, discussed God and clouds. They talked about their friends. I told them about my newspaper stories.

Always, there was music: the Beatles and Grateful Dead on my scratched-up CDs; Linkin Park and Word Alive pumped through their phones. In the car, our interests overlapped. No one could retreat to his own room.

The first time I ever talked about sex with my boys, we were driving across the state. I remember watching their faces in the rearview mirror. We could never have had that conversation around the dinner table. We needed to not look at each other, but to be together without the distractions of home. The car was our cocoon.

• • •

Ryland drives himself to school now. (I don't get to listen to NPR with him.)

He drives himself home from band practice. (I don't get to hear his recordings of their new Skrillex song.)

And when he picks up his brother after drama club, I am grateful I don't have to race right there from work. (But I miss all the debriefing: Ryland got a B on his math test. Their friend Jack made the soccer team!)

By the time they finally get home, they both say they're too tired to talk, they have to do homework. They have already shared their stories — with each other.

I try not to feel left out or superfluous, to remember I want this: their independence. But it's hard to accept that I have to let go of one of the last threads that ties me to their teenage lives, that they no longer need me to take them where they want to be.

On Saturday, we ran out of turtle food. "I'll go!" Ryland said, grabbing his Rays cap and keys.

I followed him and tried not to sound desperate when I begged, "Can I come with you?"

Of course he wanted to go by himself. Of course I let him.

And as I sat in our too-quiet house, worrying whether he would make it to PetSmart, I remembered the first time I ran errands with Ryland. He was a month old, skinny and scared. But when I lifted him from his car seat, he looked at me and smiled. And I realized that everything — even going to the grocery — was so much more fun when my son was with me.

Since Ryland started driving, I have gained hours for myself, each one tinged with fear. And I lost all that time with him. Trips that used to seem like chores now feel like missed opportunities, lost talks and shared songs, a few minutes alone with my son, going somewhere together.

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8825.

When a teen gets a driver's license, mom is left with memories 11/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 12:43pm]

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