My baby girl turned 18 today. It has been one of those bitter-sweet days. I am always happy to watch my daughter growing into a beautiful woman, yet seeing the little girl in her disappear is more than difficult.
It was not so long ago that she was whining to me, “Zebbie’s touching me” or crying because it was time to come in from playing outside. I remember so clearly her first steps, her first words, and her first tooth. These firsts continued through her first doll, her first lipstick, her first curling iron, and her first pair of heels. All of these firsts were taken in stride and I enjoyed them right along with her. We shared every moment together — I’ve been very blessed in that way.
Today, however, Grace had a “first” and for the first time I could not share in her joy. The sorrow in the realization that my baby was no longer a baby hit me with such vengeance that it took all the strength I had just to get through the day. I am fairly good at concealing my emotions, so Gracie was none the wiser, but as I revisit today’s events, my heart continues to break.
I’m not sure why today things hit me so hard. There have been lots of milestones, huge milestones, yet for some reason nothing compared to me taking Grace to the Secretary of State to apply for her driver’s permit. I know that most parents go through this when their child is 15 or 16 and by 18 their child has been driving for years, but Grace had no interest in driving. She was content to have me drive her wherever she needed to go and I was all too happy to comply.
Setting aside the fact that we saved money on driver’s training and the additional insurance costs, the time spent together while driving her wherever she wanted or needed to go these past two years has been priceless. We are close to begin with, but her dependence on me to get her where she needed to be and me having the responsibility of getting there on time brought us somehow closer. There was a mutual respect. She may have needed me, but knowing these days were numbered I did my best to make the most of them while I had them. There were some days I hated the fact I had to leave the house four or six times because I had to take her to college, pick her up, take her to work and then pick her up again, but my frustration was short lived. Somehow I always managed to come back to “this isn’t going to last forever.” Sometimes that was thought thankfully, but mostly with an aching in my heart that I knew was only going to get worse.
For weeks Grace studied the book we picked up from the Secretary of State, preparing for the test. Each night we’d sit in my room, me writing in my journal, Grace reading her manual and quizzing me on the newest things she learned. It was rather humbling when I’d get an answer wrong. It’s been a long time since I took a written driver’s test and I began to wonder if I had any business out on the roads myself. In the end we both learned quite a bit.
The whole while she studied, I enjoyed blissful denial that she was ever actually going to drive. We’d gone out to parking lots several times for her to practice. This was actually fun. Grace was so nervous that she laughed and talked the entire time. At the end of each driving session, she was emotionally and physically exhausted. I was glad to be there to give her moral and emotional support, but happier that I was able to share the experience with her.
For 18 years I have had Grace practically all to myself. Sure she has had friends and spent time with other family members, but I’d have to say I have spent the most time with her by far. I home schooled her till she was 15. Then we enrolled her in community college and I have driven her to and from there for the past three years. We chose her classes together, we go to enroll together, we buy her books together, and I even go with her to find her classrooms before the first day of class. She has done volunteer work or had jobs now for the past four years, but I drove her wherever she had to go. She was away from me, but I still had that one last string of dependence because she needed me to get her where she needed to be, be it school, work, play, or friends. I was needed.
Today was the first step towards a part of her independence that leaves me feeling empty, when I should be rejoicing for her.
Driving to the Secretary of State, Grace was nervous. She kept worrying about failing the written test. She put her hand on the arm rest between us and I took it. We held hands the rest of the drive, giving us both some much needed comfort. As usual, the Secretary of State was busy. They were serving number 6 and we were number 29. After a 30 minute wait, Grace and I went up to the counter and Grace was handed her test. Moving to the testing area, she left me standing at the counter not knowing what to do with myself. Is this what it is going to feel like when she no longer needs me?
Collecting myself, fighting back the tears, I returned to my seat in the waiting area. From there I watched as Grace read through the questions, marked off her answers, and flipped to the next page. Twenty minutes passed in an instant, my eyes hostage to her every move.
Test in hand, Grace met me back at the counter and we waited while her test was checked. Too nervous to watch, Grace turned her back to the woman and took my hand. I squeezed it tight, not letting go till we got the word, “You passed!” The smile on Grace’s face said it all. I hugged her, kissed her on the top of her head, and told her, “I never had any doubt.” Doubt is one thing I never have when it comes to Grace, when she puts her mind to something, it’s typically a done deal. Five minutes later, with a freshly printed permit firm in hand, Grace and I were driving home. No, Grace did not drive home, we were on too busy a thoroughfare for her first time out on the road.
All the way home Grace texted friends, sharing her good news. I sat quietly as she read the conversations to me as they happened. Grace shared her plan to have her license in exactly 30 days, the minimum number of days required to drive with a permit by the State and how she planned on doing all the driving she could from this day forward. It was wonderful being a part of her joy, although the lump in my throat was growing.
Once home I asked my husband if he’d take her out driving around the neighborhood for the first time. This was just one first I could not bring myself to do. He looked at me sideways, saw the unmistakable look in my eyes, and agreed. Grace ran to her room, grabbed a pair of sunglasses, and jumped back in the car, this time in the driver’s seat.
Standing in the driveway, I watched as Grace cautiously pulled out of the garage, careful not to take off the side mirror in the process. Reaching the street, she backed out onto the road for the first time. Shifting the car into “Drive,” they were off. I stood there, staring, watching until the car was out of sight, frozen. I couldn’t move. Eighteen years of firsts flooded back to me. Eighteen years of baby bottles to pop bottles; dress-up clothes to formal wear; face paint to make-up; board books to novels; Barney to Teen Wolf; rompers to mini skirts; jump rope to weight training; Gym-boree to Forever 21; Disney to MTV; swing sets to shopping malls; and car seats to driving.
Snapping myself out of my self-pity moment, I paced back and forth until the car rounded the corner 15 minutes later. Slowly the car made its way back to our driveway and Grace ever so slowly pulled into the garage. Meeting her as she got out of the car I asked her how it went. Shrugging she said, “Okay, I was really nervous.” Turning to my hubby I asked him how it went. He shrugged and said, “Okay.”
Not exactly the answers I expected. Later, after hubby left for work, I asked Grace if she wanted to try driving to softball practice where she coaches an adaptive league. She winced and told me she’d rather not and wondered if I would drive. She wanted to try driving more around the neighborhood possibly tomorrow. I gave her a long hug, grateful for the momentary reprieve from an independent driver, and told her that sounded good.
Change is hard, especially when it comes to children. Watching them grow, witnessing their struggles towards independence is as bitter-sweet as it gets. Although I know that with every change I face as my children spread their wings and prepare to leave the nest, there will be new things to enjoy and experience with them, some things are harder to accept than others. Today marked the beginning of the end of an era, thankfully though it looks like Grace might depend on me a little longer as a chauffer and I might be able to hold onto my baby for just a little while longer, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.