I’m writing this two days before Father’s Day, and two minutes after my husband and oldest son left for a road trip to Ohio to visit a couple of colleges in which my son is interested. The look on my son’s face as they pulled out of the driveway was a mixture of boredom, sleep deprivation, and fear – and I imagine the fear was a combination of the first foray into the college application process, the prospect of doing a lot of the driving on this trip (especially in his dad’s car, which he has not yet driven) and, needless to say, and perhaps most frightening of all, the prospect of spending an entire weekend with his dad.
For what teenager wants to spend endless hours with a boring, annoying grownup?
On the other side of the car windows, I watched them drive off with a mixture of pride, love and fear as well. So proud of my teen, because he just completed the most difficult and ultimately most successful semester of his school career. Those of my readers who know me and this child will understand what an accomplishment this is.
If I may indulge in a smidgen of mom-boasting for a moment – not only did he hold down several jobs (a monthly paper route, being an assistant teacher in our synagogue’s religious school, and, perhaps most impressive of all, a 4-hour-a-day grunt job in a tax firm after school during tax season, as well as running the school store) but he did all this while nailing a great report card. Although I had always assumed that I would have a naturally high achieving, school-oriented child, my son had other plans, and for many years, a report card like this was not something to be taken for granted, let alone be expected.
So yes, I am very proud of him. And I love him deeply, in ways he probably won’t ever understand, for not only is he my beloved boy, my oldest child, and the receptacle of many of my earliest parenting dreams, but he also, by being something and someone completely different from what I expected, has taught me a million life lessons about being tolerant and patient, frustrated and unhappy, understanding and yet uncomprehending, loving and questioning all at the same time.
In short, he has taught me how to be a mom.
Finally, my own fears as I watched them drive off. Fear, first and foremost, of watching him learn how to drive. Oy. This was not in my original job description. And a late-in-life driver is not the best person to teach a rash 16-year-old the rules of the road. I am very grateful NOT to be on this road trip, where he will start his highway driving lessons.
Fear, too, of watching him and his dad take off – and hoping that they work hard to be patient and understanding with each other during this long spate of time together.
And finally fear of the next step of my parenting life. My son is a rising senior. He is getting ready to choose the place where he will spend the four years after he graduates, a college where he will hopefully learn and have fun and figure out his life trajectory, at least to start. But this means that he will be leaving our nest, never to return in quite the same way.
He’s ready. I’m ready. It’s much like those early days of parenting when he was a few weeks old and I was at a parenting group where they talked about babyproofing. Babyproofing! It was a horrifying thought at the time. I had a four-week-old baby who I couldn’t even get to nurse properly, how could I possibly think about gates on the stairs? It got my nerves in a twist.
But like everything with parenting, when the time comes, you are ready. Or at least almost ready. And just as sure as the childproof gates went up when my son was ready to tackle the stairs, the gates allowing him to pick up and begin his life outside the confines of our family are opening up at just the right moment.
So yes, pride and love and gratitude and fear. All mixed together in a perfect parenting package. My son and his dad will be spending Father’s Day together in a car, having just taken a glimpse, perhaps, at his future. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the joy of parenting and the utter luck that my husband has this wonderful son and that my son has his wonderful dad.
Photo by jimmywayne via Flickr