My youngest child got her driver's license yesterday. As we were leaving the NJ DMV (where the age to obtain a license is 17), she said, "I don't need you anymore."
She's been warning me of this very thing for months now, as she's been practicing to get her license. "Once I get my license," she's told me more than a few times, "I won't need you anymore. You should go get a job."
Because really, all I do is drive her places. And pick her up. That's it.
The license does change things, though. It shifts the paradigm around here. No more will I need to be in the area around 3:00 to shuffle her from school to work. This Saturday, she starts rehearsals for a new show she's going to be in. She'll simply jump in her car and drive to her rehearsal, and then jump in her car and drive home.
My husband and I won't have to do Rock, Paper, Scissors to figure out which one of us is going to take her to the Friday night dance back at school or her friend's party Saturday night. We won't have to ask her to beg a friend's mom to split the driving with us. We won't miss a movie time or eat dinner at a strange hour again.
I'm really happy about this. The constant driving demands have been challenging the last couple of years as she's grown more and more social and more and more active. Last summer, she was a camp counselor at a drama camp that was a 30 minute drive each way. This summer, she'll drive herself, saving me both gas and time. There will be more time to write. More time to read. More time to do all the other things that I need to get done for my daughter despite the fact that my daughter thinks she doesn't need me anymore.
But I'm also really sad. I like getting to talk to my daughter, and the car is one of the best places. There's little or no eye contact, so we can talk about lots of things we might not otherwise talk about. You can interpret that any way you want.
There's little or no other stimulus, so distractions are at a minimum. If she's driving, there is no phone, just her and me and the road and an occasional scream of terror (me) and frustration over the screams (her), but mostly chit chat (both of us).
There's music. Sometimes, when she's been relaxed enough, we've belted out songs together as her favorites have played. (Note: I have a bad voice, so she usually tells me to stop singing.)
When I drove, I liked getting to talk to her friends. They are fun people, and I learn a lot about teen life from them. Who is dating who, who likes who, who hates who. Who is passing math and who can't stand it, who is applying to what colleges and why, who got a new job and who quit. It's like my very own soap opera on wheels, one that has now come to its end.
I will miss getting a preview about her day a little early. If I needed to pick her up from school, I got a flash between school and work, before dinnertime, when we are together with my husband to all share our days together. It's been a wonderful privilege (even when her day has sucked).
Yes, the license changes everything. It changes parenting. It changes power. It changes structure. But it is also changes nothing. Because she still needs me, no matter what she thinks.