Bittersweet 16

Every time our kids turn a year older, I find myself going through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I tell him there is no way he is really that old. Denial. More importantly, there is no way I am old enough to have a child that old! Anger. I agree to buy him everything on his birthday list if he will just admit he is lying about his age. Bargaining. I cry while going through old photos on my computer realizing it would take me forever to turn these into photo albums. Depression. I finally realize that cookie cake is not going to eat itself. Acceptance.

         This past month, as we celebrated our oldest son’s birthday I went through all five universal stages plus an unexpected sixth one – exhilaration. That’s because my boy turned 16.

         I’ve always thought of this as a turning point in a young person’s life; gaining this newfound responsibility coupled with a subtle loss of innocence. The morning I turned 16, my dad woke me up and said, “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” I abruptly turned away from him and said, “Sorry, Dad, too late.” I am pretty sure he has been scarred ever since.

         I preferred to think of Arthur’s sixteenth birthday less about him bidding farewell to his youth, and more about our family saying hello to a third driver.

         Anyone will tell you that the driving process, and believe me, it is a process, is an emotionally taxing and time-consuming ritual. And it’s pretty hard on the teenagers, too. What you cannot predict about your own children is whether they will be one of those kids who is just dying to drive, or one of those kids who couldn’t care less about getting behind the wheel. My husband and I both fit into the first category. Arthur was a mixture. He started out as the kid who couldn’t care less. He has a May birthday and didn’t take the test for his learner’s permit until August. And he failed that the first time around. He barely drove six hours in those first six months. Right after the first of the year, with just five months until his birthday, the real panic set in. He realized whatever freedom and independence he hoped to gain was utterly contingent on his learning to drive. And that’s when he threw it into high gear.

         We signed him up for Haman’s driving school, he did the driving sessions with an instructor, and he drove with one of us every chance he got.  Fortunately, he was actually pretty good. With just days leading up to his birthday, I tried to give him as much advice as I could.

         The day before his driver’s test it was I who started to panic. There was so much he still didn't know. Trying to cram 30 years of driving experience into 30-minute ride-alongs was no easy task. I started rattling off timely tips at every turn. “Always pause after the light turns green before you go.” “Be careful driving past parked cars because people never look when they open their doors.” “These tracks might look outdated but you never know, a train may come one day.” It was just like the day I drove him to his kindergarten assessment when he was 5. I started to panic on the way to school, worried that he wouldn’t pass. “Do you know your numbers from 1-10?” “Say the alphabet for me.” “You forgot K!” “If they ask you to tie your shoes just explain that your mother only buys you shoes with Velcro, because she has three boys and very little time.”

         He passed with flying colors – both his driver’s test and kindergarten assessment, thank you very much. The day after his birthday he drove his brothers to school. I secretly filmed their maiden voyage without their mama. Over the next week he drove everywhere – to the gas station, the grocery store, back and forth to school. He even took his brothers out to dinner one night. I overheard him telling his best friend that he was basically the family chauffeur. I corrected him and said, “That’s not true. You’re more like a personal Uber driver. You’re pre-paid and always on call.” Now that Arthur and I are both celebrating this newfound freedom and independence, I finally have time to tackle some of those things I have been meaning to do for years, like making those photo albums. I plan to get to that as soon as I teach the boys how to tie their shoes.