It’s a milestone that just creeps up on you. It had seemed far away on the horizon. One minute we’re watching Postman Pat and tripping over Lego, the next I’m watching my man-child proudly peeling back those yellow and black “L” stickers and fixing them carefully to the windscreen of the family car. Yes, the family car. The one that mum and dad drive, into which he, the child, has always been safely fastened and taken to friendly, familiar places: kinder, school, the park, Granny’s house, the supermarket.
That’s just how it’s always been, that’s the status quo. Cocooned in a vacuum of parental airbags. So instead of my heart swelling with pride, I feel the bile rising in my throat as the sheer terror sets in and the nausea washes through me in waves. A new era is dawning. A new world order awaits. The road to independence is here right now and ready to be driven. I’d better buckle up for the ride.
Those early drives are micro-managed. Venturing out on quiet back roads in the early hours of Sunday mornings is all I can handle. I try not to talk too much, but guide where necessary, while all the time staring wide-eyed at the road in front. I shrink back in my seat, clammy palms on my lap, as I try my best not to adopt the brace position. I try to speak in a steady voice, carefully choosing my words. My portrayal of calm and my confidence-inspiring demeanour is Oscar-worthy but betrays every symptom of panic that I’m experiencing within.
I’d like to say it’s getting easier, but it’s not. The requisite practice hours seem to take forever. Ten minutes as a supervising driver takes 10 years off your life. Now we are stretching the boundaries with busier and faster roads, and driving in the rain. Drivers tailgate us and then overtake, engines screaming, clearly aiming to intimidate, but I’m powerless to protect my son from their antisocial behaviour.
The day will arrive, I know, when he goes solo, and the greatest tests are still to come. In life, as in driving, I wonder if I have delivered as a parent. Will he know when to hang back and give way to others, and when to put his foot down and push himself forward? Will he be vigilant and courteous to others in his path and will he be alert to dangers lurking in his blind spot? Has he got the right vehicle to get him where he wants to go? Has he got the navigation skills to find the roads ahead that he must travel to live a full and rewarding life?
It’s time to let go. The boy needs to be the man. I will wave him off with a public smile and silently pray he’ll enjoy a safe and happy drive. (But I may just keep hold of the Lego, for now.)
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