It is August 23, 2018, the day I have long awaited, her 17th Birthday. Chloe’ my first and only born is now of legal age to get her Drivers License. Much to my chagrin, her Field Hockey Coach made her go to a 7:00 am Mandatory Practice, knowing her driving instructor was picking her up at 8 am for her test. So, I haul ass to the field at 6:45 am in my pajamas and I wait for her to get released for her test. We rush home, frazzled, not the way you want to start the day you are taking the biggest test of your teenage life.
To me, today has many significant meanings. For one, it’s my child’s birthday. It’s a “big one” at that and we have 100% prepared for this day over the past year. From the 6 hours in Driving School that cost an arm, leg and two eyes. To the first few trips she drove me and I was like, “damn she’s a natural” to this, the day they stamp that card and send her on her way inside for her plastic. I was so ready and I did everything to make sure she was too!
We arrive at the Wayne, NJ DMV and just like I like it, we are among the first in line. (Sidebar, although I am extremely patient, my anxiety gets weird in crowds, so I once woke up at 5 am and carried my ass and a folding chair into the DMV to be the first in line and meditated, by the time the doors opened at 8:30, there were well over 200 people behind me. Ask me if I cared how I looked with my hot pink chair under my arm in that hellhole…)
She is in the Driving Instructors car, who once again I have paid to bring her since none of our cars were suitable for the test. I am sitting facing the obstacle course of cones with flags and signs that say STOP and even flashing lights. My nerves are on level 10, she looks cool though, so that helps me – along with some doctor prescribed anxiety medication.
It’s her turn.
She takes off, and for five minutes I am in my car praying. Each new prayer starting with, “Dear Lord, Heavenly Father, forgive me for only calling upon you in my time of need” because I have become much more of a spiritual than a religious and now I am regretting it, shame on me. I continue “I need you now, be with her and guide her through all the steps she has learned”, honestly call me selfish but I might even have slipped into that, I am too tired to continue my unpaid partnership with Lyft as her personal driver. “In His name, we pray, Amen” I sigh.
She pulls up on the other side from where she started. Slowly, she gets out of the car and in typical Chloe fashion, just nods and emotionless. Hello? I can’t read her body language so I jump out of my car, dodge the line of cars waiting for their turn, semi-run up to her and scream “DID YOU GET IT!!!!” and she turns back at me (as to say I have totally mortified her) shoos me off with a “yes” and a nod.
SCORE!!! (Insert QUEEN, We Are the Champions)
Arthritis in both hips, I manage to do some form of a happy skip (?) back to my car like I just won the Gold at the Parenting Olympics. I peacock through the line of darling children who look like they’re going to puke from nerves. Sure I am talking to myself, no big deal, “I am some kind of Parent Savant”. I am already thinking about the text I will be sending off to her 100+ family members from California to Trinidad. I jump into my truck while I wait on her and grab my phone instinctively to Facetime my husband. (And no, it did not occur to me that this was her story to tell)
“Hello,” he says excitedly. We are virtually face to face, our first real parenting an adult moment, it is silent. He repeats, “Hello???” as I stare at this man who I adore, who has been through this rollercoaster of 17 years with me. Then, without warning or any justifiable reason, I BURST INTO TEARS! I am full on sobbing uncontrollably. The type of sob that he can’t read, so he panics and hangs up. I am literally crying so hard that no sound is coming out of me at this point, my body is just convulsing.
What the f*ck just happened to me? I did everything right, I was fully medicated, I was genuinely happy for her, I was even happier for me and now I am a complete f*cking mess with snot running down my nose.
The phone is ringing, my poor saint of a husband is trying to call me back because I am sure after seeing my reaction, he was thinking she ran over someone’s foot, flipped someone the bird on the course or something to the effect. I cannot answer the phone in this condition so I continue to decline him and sob.
Right then, I had a flashback. Chloe is standing on the first row of bleachers with 50 other 2nd Graders singing “Peter Cottontail” wearing bunny ears made of paper and her golden brown curls in piggy tails bouncing to the music. It is the Spring Concert and all the moms are smiling and laughing while taking pictures of their little ones except me. There I sat in the back row, sobbing uncontrollably, trying to hide from her. I heard some sobs from the back corner of the room and there I found one other mom, looking as overcome with emotion.
She and I ended up sitting next to each other for everything from Halloween Parades to Moving Up Ceremonies from that day forward, alternating who would bring the tissues. We had something in common. We were mothers of “only children”, I know – it doesn’t sound like much of a reason to connect but, it made sense to us. I am sure parents out there with only one child will agree, there is just something about how we process these milestones. Although having an only child is not a unique phenomenon, the juxtaposition of experiencing everything as a first, (the HIGH) and a last (the LOW) at once makes it difficult to process.
Back at DMV, I try to clean my face up as fast as possible but the minute we meet inside, I start all over again. She is mortified. There she is surrounded by people who also passed, so I decided to skip the “that’s my kid” portion of bragging. Naturally, she sees not one but two kids from school in line who also just passed and their parents sitting there chatting about the heat wave. Chloe has gone from being humiliated to humiliating me. She’s on Snapchat, the phone within an inch of my face, “look at my mother, she’s a mess” she narrates. Still, I sob. I get a little respite while she is in taking her picture and waiting for the long-awaited plastic to be placed into her hot hand.
At this point, my face has made its rounds on Social Media but for those who missed it…
I have said the words “I cannot wait for you to start driving” at least 872 times in the last few years. For every single “can you drop me off at my friend’s house” who mind you could literally live one block away or two hours away to the dreaded 9 pm Target run because she needs something for school the next day, there were such great times riding together. I cherished the drop-off and pick-up from school catching up on our lives. I secretly enjoyed cars full of girls with muddy cleats who smelled like outdoors. Cruising with the top off of the Jeep with my little buddy, reciting Lil Uzi Vert. Is it all just a memory? How will I find out about the new songs that are hot? When will we have those short but information-packed chat sessions? Everything I have known for 17 years was me and her in close quarters on the road.
I felt like it was my classroom, inside the car. I taught her about geography, love, the environment, and even Howard Stern. Sadly, I have broken her heart sitting behind the wheel telling her news that would shatter her world, knowing she couldn’t escape and hide. There was something about being stuck in a car together that made us our best versions of ourselves. We laughed our hardest laughs, told our deepest secrets and knew that what happened there stayed there. Even as a baby, I’d drive around with her until she fell asleep. All of these memories swarmed me. Again, the dilemma of winning and losing at the same time.
I am selfish, I know, but she is my “roll dog” my “son (daughter) riding shotgun”.
As I write this I have a whole new set of worries, like any parent of a 17-year-old does. I am in a totally different place mentally than I was just a few hours ago. My concerns have shifted to her safety and new responsibilities.
I have learned that “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security” Gail Sheehy, and today I surrender.
I have time to write, between checking the GPS on the truck of course, thank you technology.
I am going to ask that you all wish her safe travels, and I will do the same for you. I don’t think it will ever make much sense to me how fast time flies. I say this to everyone, parent or not, cherish each and every moment we get here Earthside, not sure what the meaning of all this is but I am sure our time here is important!
By the way, I have been praying a lot more too, so there’s that. Amen?
Dee-Dee Kanhai, aka “The Spice of Suburbia”, was a big city girl for 25 years who was transplanted to the Suburbs of Northern New Jersey. This relocation led to her “undoing” and with that, the discovery of her true self. Besides being a wife and mother to a teenage daughter and toy Chihuahua, Dee-Dee works in finance and owns a small Etsy Shop @LoveTheUndoing, where she sells heart-made jewelry, crystals, and other whimsical crafts. Dee-Dee is a student of life, teacher of meditation, practicing yogi and a mystical moon child.