As we sat in a beautiful French restaurant enjoying a romantic lunch, my wife and I reflected on our lives. It was our 25th anniversary and though we had always planned for a two-week trip through Tuscany to mark this occasion, the restaurant would have to serve in its place. College, home repairs, mortgages… Tuscany, Paris, even some resort outside Phoenix would have to wait, we surmised, as we waited for our dessert tarte to arrive. What’s another year anticipating exotic vineyards when you’ve had a lifetime together?
As we made our way to the car, satiated and satisfied, the phone rang.
“Hi Mom.” It was our 18-year old daughter.
“I’m leaving to pick up Kate at school.” Kate is our middle schooler.
“Be careful. Those parking lots can be crazy.”
As we drove home, we talked about our kids and the ordinary things that make our lives so extraordinary. Lunch in the middle of the week for two middle-aged, middle income people was a treat in itself. Life wasn’t perfect but what’s perfection when you have 25 great years under your ever-expanding belt?
Just as we got off the exit, the phone rang again.
My wife began to shake her head first up and down, then side to side as she listened intently to the caller. A quarter of a century together, I knew there was something brewing in our suburban paradise.
“Honey, are you both okay?”
“What’s going on?” I tried to remain calm.
The look from my wife said it all. Everyone was okay. The car was not. I had been there before.
“Are you home? Okay, we will be home in a couple of minutes.”
The call and the anniversary moment had ended. Reality had set in with dents and dings and who knows what else. It was just another bump… we had been through worse.
“She backed into a tree. The garbage truck was blocking the driveway and wouldn’t move. She asked him to move but he wouldn’t. So she backed up down the lane. He kept coming forward as she backed up. She was scared and panicked. She hit a rock and then a tree. After all that, he finally backed up. We’re so cancelling that fucking service.”
Let’s get one thing straight (even if my daughter can’t go straight when in reverse). Mess with one of my kids and my wife will take you down. That garbage hauler was about to get trash talked into the ground. He had backed our daughter into the wrong tree.
As we pulled in, there they stood next to a crunched back-end. I crunched the numbers in my head. My expensive French lunch just got a lot more expensive. It would have been cheaper to travel abroad.
My younger daughter rolled her eyes at me in that judgmental tween way. My older daughter ran to us in tears, spewing her story, making her case. We listened without losing it. We had been here before… when she somehow missed seeing the stone wall that lines our driveway six months before.
As I stood there, assessing the situation and trying to steer clear of accusations and judgments, I took stock of the car, and my life. I had anticipated these moments since my daughter took her first wobbly steps. One day, steel-belted tires would enter her life, and I would have to steel myself for what lie ahead.
Mall runs, four-way stops and snow-laden tree branches have taken on Biblical proportions since my child had passed her driving test. I worry about soccer moms swerving in their SUVs. Dads racing through town for pick-ups at parties. Seniors driving slowly; teenagers driving way too fast. Everyone and anyone are a threat to my family’s well being.
And then there’s my daughter. Who sometimes accelerates into a curve instead of out of it. Who adjusts her mirrors en route. Who tenses up every time I tense up next to her. Who innately senses my fears, and loathing of anyone near her on the road.
How can I protect her if I can’t see her safely belted in the rear-view mirror? Minor accidents on my tree-lined lane only fuel my anxiety. What happens when she takes the car to college, travels far and wide, moves miles away for a job? Will I need a telepathic GPS to track her every move?
From the minute they are born, we stand at existential crossroads, pondering the very meaning of parenthood. We know they need to fly and soar… but do they really need to drive? Every time I get that insurance renewal (which has almost doubled since those accidents), I stare at her name next to mine. She’s an adult on paper but a kid in my heart. Why the need for speed?
And just when I feel I have it all under control, it occurs to me. Only three years more until my younger daughter drives. Who said parenthood would be a stroll in the park?