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Watching My Daughter Drive

Mother giving teenage daughter the car keys
Photograph by Getty Images

My daughter drives.

Are there three scarier, more exciting words in the English language? Three words that simultaneously hold such promise and such peril, that signal such joy, fear, expectation, liberation—and expense?

I am the mother of a new teen driver, and I’m awash in these conflicting feelings…and more. On the one hand, I have to admit that life has suddenly become a whole lot easier. No ferrying her to school in the morning. No stopping mid-project to drive in to pick her up in the afternoon. No shifting plans because she had to stay late or a practice was canceled or she wanted to hang out with a friend. No sitting around on Saturday night waiting for the text informing me that the movie is out and she’s ready to be picked up. No being on call. I love it.

But I also hate it. Not just because I’m scared she’ll get in an accident (which, of course, I am) or that she’ll get a flat tire on a lonely road and some horrible, evil person will stop to “help” her (a scenario I can easily construct in my deep moment of catastrophizing). I hate it because of what that driver’s license means, the subtext, if you will, of the driver’s license.

It is one more step—a huge step at that—in her independence, in her journey toward adulthood and away from the little girl it is hard for me not to see in her composed, mascara-ed teenage face. Being able to drive means that the part of her life that is her life and her life alone will grow and change in ways that will now be obscured from my view. Having a license means I am no longer indispensable. Is this all a necessary and wonderful part of growing up? Yes. Does it break my heart? A little.

I won’t miss being a chauffeur. I won’t miss picking up her and a friend and having them sit in the backseat together so that I truly do feel like a chauffeur. I won’t miss being told to let her off a block away from a meeting spot so her friends don’t see she’s being driven (chauffeured) by her mother. I won’t miss mid-evening runs to the grocery store because she suddenly remembered she was supposed to bring cookies for a school event, and there’s no vanilla extract in the house.

But here’s what I will miss: The surprising, important, suddenly serious talks we’ve had in the car, conversations that just happened because we were in transit, in limbo, in a kind of free space that somehow freed us. I’ll miss those occasional impromptu events—stopping for frozen yogurt, looking at kittens in the pet store—that happen because we’re in the car and we’ve got a half an hour before we need to be some place. But most of all, I’ll miss singing with her. In the car, with the radio blasting and no one to hear how badly we harmonized and how much we messed up the lyrics, we rocked.

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