FEATURE — It feels like just yesterday, I got my driver’s license. Today, my oldest child got his. It seems impossible, but it’s true. Sixteen feels like a side mirror disclaimer: closer than it appears.
The freedom. The promise. The anticipation.
I can still feel the euphoria of dropping my mom off at home and driving my used burnt-red Rabbit convertible through the curving hills of Hope Ranch alone, eager to find my best friend and show her my newly legitimized existence.
Adulthood just ahead.
I reported to the DMV the morning of my birthday, charged with nerves and full of self-talk that everything would be OK even if I failed – even if I wasn’t convinced.
So much hung on that driver’s license. It did for my boy, too.
He took his road test early. Apparently, that’s a thing you can do now. So his big day was more of a perfunctory exercise than a true test. Nonetheless, he passed with flying colors, even though I’ll note here my bafflement that they don’t have teens do much actual driving. Parallel parking? Yes. U-turns? Yes. Merging onto a freeway or another major roadway with other cars? No.
One of my son’s friends passed the road test and still refused to drive without his parents for a few weeks because he didn’t feel comfortable driving on his own. I appreciate his honestly. And am slightly frightened by the underlying truth.
My son logged almost double the necessary permitted driving hours; I needed that boy to be ready at the start to get himself all the places he needs to go. Namely the 40-mile round trip to gymnastics four times a week.
But he did miss three points on his driving test – one for each of the signals he didn’t make on his three-point turn. As did his girlfriend who passed her driving test several months before.
My youngest oddly remarked later, “I don’t think they (my son and his teenage girlfriend) should get married, Mom.”
I didn’t realize that was even a remote consideration and was busy thinking about all the reasons to tell my 9-year-old how ridiculous that statement was when he added, “You shouldn’t marry someone who gets the same things wrong, because then you can’t help each other.”
He has a point. Not about my 16-year-old marrying his also 16-year-old girlfriend (although she is absolutely lovely) because that is crazy talk.
But about what lies ahead for his brother. And that it isn’t that far off.
As I sat with my eldest at the end of his 16th birthday, joyfully recapping the fun day, he grew quiet. “Suddenly, I feel like adulthood is crashing in,” he confided.
And he’s not wrong. He’s started coaching at his gym, he’ll compete at a world cup in Spain in two months, he’ll take the ACT in February and then start applying to colleges within the year.
Who knows what’s after that? It feels so big. And it feels so small.
There are a thousand decisions between here and there. There are a thousand experiences.
But I don’t want him to feel the weight of it all more than he has to. I want him to live in the now. I want him to still be a kid. Growing into a young man. Bit by bit. Day by day. Not all at once. Not all crashing in.
And I want him to know that his path will be filled with many roads that are equal. Every choice doesn’t need to feel like the most important decision he will ever make.
Of course, there will be some important ones. But there will be many small ones that have more play than he now realizes – and are more forgiving than he might assume, even the important ones.
Robert Frost famously wrote about two roads that diverged in a yellow wood. Most people remember the protagonist taking the road less traveled. And how it made all the difference. This is a lot of pressure.
But really, the path the man in the poem takes is a road “worn the same” and “equally fair,” and he say’s he is sorry he couldn’t travel both.
Both paths offer experience, just different ones.
In the end, the man in the poem values the experience he chose because he chose it.
So as 16 starts to feel for my boy like 42 is already creeping in, I hope he remembers that his path is wide and broad. It is full of divergent choices in yellowed woods.
Choices that don’t need to feel so scary. Or so heavy.
Years from now (many, many, many years), when my boy chooses a mate, he might do well to follow his little brother’s advice and choose someone who doesn’t make the exact same “mistakes” as him.
Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.