04/22/2013 11:36 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2013

Riding In Cars With Boys

"Am I big enough now, Mom? All of my friends are doing it."

"Yes, I guess you are. But only if we're going somewhere close by. Long trips, this is off-limits."

And for the very first time, my son crawled into the front seat of my car for the one-mile ride to Target.

He was so excited. He leaned toward the windshield, realizing this was his first time looking through it without the obstruction of a headrest. He ran his hands over the passenger door handle, as if it were a smooth rock picked up on the beach. He squirmed around in his seat, settling in to find his comfortable spot. He fiddled with the radio, the temperature controls and the air vents.

For him, the world looks different from up here.

As I pulled out of our driveway, and headed down the street, I kept looking over at him, to make sure it was really HIM sitting there, next to me, in my car.

But it doesn't feel like him. At moments, it feels like I have a very short boyfriend in the car. At other times, he might as well be a hitchhiker I picked up on the side of the road. It is surreal and awkward.

Our conversation is different, too. I can't explain how, but it's not our typical mother-son dialogue. It's an easy banter -- not that our normal conversation isn't easy, but it's... palpably changed, in ways I can't understand.

A favorite song of his comes on the radio and he starts busting out his favorite sitting-down dance moves. He looks over at me slyly, wanting me to laugh at him.

I think about the next female that might look over at him in a car. A faceless girlfriend. He is too adorable for words, with his dimples, endless brown eyes and that shaggy surfer hair that curls just right, and she will not be able to resist him. I think about him someday leaning over in a car and kissing that girl. I think about how one day, he will sit in the driver's seat, carting his friends around on escapades and drinking in those first delicious tastes of freedom.

He is no longer the fat baby who hated being in his car seat, or the toddler throwing wet Cheerios on the floor, or the boy excited to be in a booster.

I no longer look backwards and down to talk to him. I don't spy on him from the rearview mirror. I look directly across, and he is there, meeting my eyes, not looking up like a wide-eyed child. Just looking at me.

These moments are coming more quickly now, the moments where the tectonic plates of our relationship shift underneath us.

While I will always be his parent, I feel it. He is inching, ever slowly, toward being a peer, a friend, a grownup. This evolution will take another ten years to complete itself, but it is in motion. I guess it always has been.

And as I turned away from his smiling face toward the windshield, the world looked different for me, too.