My son Ford drove me to work on Friday morning. He got his driver’s license the afternoon before, and less than 24 hours later, my oldest child, the one I remember jumping up and down in his Exersaucer, left me in a parking lot and drove away.
When your son’s name is Ford, you know too soon that this day will come. Cars have been part of Ford’s surrounding since the moment we announced his name to friends and family. I promise you, no other baby has more onsies with cars on them or “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments shaped like trucks than the child whose name is Ford.
Ford’s first car, if you will, was a battery-powered John Deere ride-on toy. With Ford’s younger brother beside him in a diaper and a Batman cape billowing from his neck, Ford did hundreds of miles of circles around our Florida home. And it was the first time I realized someday he would have actual licenses to drive. And I was scared.
But nothing is as terrifying as the first time your newly permitted driver merges onto the interstate in an actual, moving car. That happened less than a year ago, after Ford completed driver’s education. I grabbed the dashboard, lowered my head and screamed things I shouldn’t.
Happily, it still felt like ages before Ford would have a license to drive alone.
Then came this winter. Ford turned 16, and soon after he was eligible to take his road test and earn his license. The test was scheduled for a few days before Christmas, and despite my inner mom telling me to fear this new milestone, I was secretly planning all the things Ford could help me with once he could drive: transporting siblings to and from school, running to the grocery store for milk, taking people to buy Christmas presents. Fear had turned to hope.
And then Ford failed the road test.
“What do you mean you failed?” I asked in the middle of the BMV.
“I made an ‘unnecessary stop,’” he said. “And now I have to wait a month to take the test again.” He left the building.
“But you were going to get me milk … and pick up your brothers,” I trailed behind, muttering.
He turned around and said, “Getting a license just means I have to do more errands for you!”
He wasn’t wrong. It’s the plight of firstborns everywhere: a new license means more ways to help your mom. But as the weeks dragged on Ford’s desire for independence grew again — and he was afraid maybe he wouldn’t pass the road test a second time. That, of course, meant I was afraid, too.
I sat in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles while Ford did the test. I tried to read or knit, but instead I paced. For 16 years, I have paced for this child: waiting for him to come home from his first day of kindergarten, waiting to hear if he made the All Star team in baseball, waiting outside the doctor’s room during his first visit without me there. And now, pacing at the BMV.
Then I saw him walking toward me on the other side of the glass door, with a piece of paper in his hand. Had he passed? Do he look happy? Or was he mad again? I couldn’t read him, but I knew that in many ways, my mood depended on the answer.
Ford broke into a smile and said, “I got my license!”
I celebrated for about one minute and then suddenly I realized everything this meant for me. My son has a license. My son can drive without me. My son can go anywhere he wants to go.
Don’t bother going back to reread and check: Didn’t I say I’d be happy if he passed? Or, wait, did I say I feared this day? A mother’s emotions never make much sense. Ever since Ford started high school, actually, I’ve alternated between moments of feeling proud, scared, anxious and happy — usually all while waiting at the curb to pick him up after school. I feel like his independence is coming in small but steady increments, and my heart is trying to keep pace.
So on Friday, when he dropped me off at work, there were a few tears in my eyes. He looked so much older behind the wheel, and in a moment he’d be driving through town without anyone beside him. Where had little baby Ford gone?
As the taillights grew more distant, Ford raised his hand over his shoulder to wave at me again. I took a picture. He turned the corner. And then he was gone.
I smiled, sighed and beamed with pride.
Then I realized, this son of mine, who is part-child, part-man, probably didn’t know his way around well enough to come back and get me.
And I was scared all over again.
Maine writer and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.