After two deliberate and self-imposed years of permit driving, my first-born, my only son, Aaron, took his driving test on Saturday, and passed, just as we all hoped and assured him he would. And for as much encouragement as I gave him, I had two solid nights of tumultuous driving nightmares. Oh, how I have prayed since then to Jesus, Mary, St. Michael and St. Christopher, that he be guarded by angels on these streets of Shreveport, that Jesus truly take the wheel and steer our son safely each day from and to our little home on the south side of town.
Aaron and I had plans to go to the DMV this morning – first rattle out of the box, as they say. We ran a tad late because, well, I had to dig for the documents I should have retrieved yesterday. We only ran ten minutes late picking up my nephew and driving Aaron’s (and Victoria’s – see, I didn’t forget you, baby girl!) week-old new-to-us car to school, where Aaron parked a hundred empty spaces away from civilization so that we could walk together into the school office for the last form we needed for the sacred DMV: the school enrollment verification. Twenty minutes later, we checked that off the list and headed to the “faster” DMV in Bossier.
Bear in mind, I could barely recall where this branch of the DMV was located. I grew up in Bossier, but I have been remiss in visiting (as my husband frequently reminds me) for the past two decades. After side-seat driving Aaron down the interstate (sorry for the claw marks in your dashboard, love!) we arrived at the hallowed DMV, where I am now certain they made a grand and most important announcement mere moments before our entry:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for this inconvenience, but the State of Louisiana is updating the camera systems of the Department of Motor Vehicles state-wide. Our expected wait for those of you renewing or receiving your driver’s licenses is an hour and a half.”
It was over an hour and a half before they made a new/repeat announcement of the same caliber, only this time adding that the original time frame had now passed, and they had no idea how long it would take. By this point, we had been sitting for an hour, and the four-month old baby that was flirting from the seat next to me was almost cute enough to make up for it. Had we known of this delay going in… oh, who am I kidding? Aaron had been dreaming of this day for weeks, if not months (I’m sure I’ll never get him to admit to either). Was there any way in all of heaven that I would have looked him in the eye and said, “Sorry, sweetie. We’ll come back another time.” Yeahhhhh. Not this momma.
And so we sat.
I worried about the work time I was missing, two months into whatever probationary period I am still on at my new job. I kept looking at my son, who was fiddling with his phone, but who would look up and smile at me with that “I’m about to get the coolest adult item ever” look on his face. So we continued to wait.
Eventually, our stomachs were in a competition to see whose could growl the loudest, so we opted to leave for lunch and return in a few minutes. I double checked with the lady who had taken our application for the license, just to be sure our leaving would not jeopardize our place in line for the camera. She assured me it would not.
So we headed out to the parking lot, where I had directed Aaron to park a tad closer to the door than he did at the school, and we climbed in and drove off in search of food. It was at the first stop sign out of the parking lot that Aaron noticed the note on his windshield. “Mom,” he said, “there’s something on my windshield.”
“Throw the car in park, baby; I’ll grab it.” I jumped out, certain my SuperMom cape would catch the wind and signal to everyone that I had this completely under control. My fist thought was a ticket, but then I knew we had been in a legitimate parking spot, so my second and prevailing thought was “church flyer.” Sadly, it was neither.
It was, instead, a note and an insurance card. The note said that it was from the owner of the truck which was originally parked beside us. He had hit our car as he was backing out, and was incredibly sorry. Here was his phone number and his insurance card. Please call him.
Holy. Crap. This. Isn’t. Happening.
Aaron and I both got out to examine the damage. It’s truly not awful – despite a long and ragged dent, the back door still opens, as does the gas tank. But, OMG, he’s had this car a week! A WEEK!! He gets to drive it to school for the first time TOMORROW. And it’s already damaged. It’s kind of like opening your most asked-for toy at Christmas and finding out that it’s missing a wheel or the remote control. The fun sort of…fizzles.
We drove haphazardly through the old Swan Lake neighborhood to Cane’s on Airline Drive, mostly because I could not remember my freaking way around this end of town, and also because we were just a tad thrown off our game. I did recognize street signs, and knew that they were streets on which many of my high school friends had grown up. I thought of those people again, but it wasn’t like the last time I drove through this neighborhood. Today, it was shrouded in suck. I thought about how I wanted so badly to drive in high school, and of the people who rode in my car once I got my wheels – how happy I was and how much fun we had. I missed them momentarily, but my mind shot back to my son, who needed direction and encouragement to not let this get him down. I wasn’t very good at either for a while. He ate – I felt like hurling, so I abstained from lunch – and then we headed back to the DMV, this time with me behind the wheel so that I could get us back quickly without having to think two steps ahead out loud about where we were and what lane we needed to be in.
Twenty minutes after arriving back at the DMV, it appeared the camera was back online. But our customer service person was at lunch, and our application was stuck in a pile on her desk. “God, grant me patience,” I started to pray, and then quickly stopped. Have you ever noticed that when you pray for patience, things seem to move much slower? “I’m on to you, Lord!” I thought. “Okay, please just give me peace. Patience is a little far out of my reach now. Peace will do just fine.”
And He did. Just like that. DMV Lady showed up, called our name second from her stack, and Aaron was smiling for the camera in no time. I so desperately wanted to do what the mom in front of me did, and take an iPhone pic of my son getting his driver’s license photo taken, but I refrained. Someday he may thank me for that. Maybe not. Maybe this is why I’m not a photographer. I write to keep the memories. I just need someone to read them to me when I’m old and drooling in my jello, please.
Aaron drove me home under the authority of his brand new license. We spent a couple of minutes sun-gazing at the eclipse from our driveway, and then I went to work, having given Aaron permission to miss the last hour of the school day. True, I typically don’t allow my children to miss even the last day of school because it is a literal school day according to the calendar (yes, I’m that mom) but I figured he had pretty much been through the ringer, as I had, and so I relented just this once. Truthfully, this was also likely because I was glad to know he was home safe and I didn’t have to worry about him flying solo until tomorrow. I drove myself to work and realized that I had changed purses and left my desk keys in the other purse. At home. Phone call to Aaron: “Sweetie, can you bring my keys to me?”… “Hey, Carey, what’s our office address?”… “Aaron, can you get here safely? The address is…” He did get there safely. I gave him directions out of our parking lot, and then stood on the front porch of the bank and watched him leave. I felt like a stalker. He saw me. I waved, shrugged that mom’s-gotta-do-what-a-mom’s-gotta-do shrug, said a prayer, watched him make the left-hand turn across two lanes of traffic to get onto the main street, and I walked back inside. And then I GPS-tracked him all the way home.
I also called the guy who hit Aaron’s car at the DMV. He was kind enough to have already set up a claim under his own liability – those wheels are rolling more smoothly than I ever expected. I was very grateful to this man for the note he left. Just two weeks ago, I was instructing Aaron that if he ever hit a car whose driver was not available, he was to leave his name and contact information on the other car. “You don’t ever walk away from damage you cause,” I told him. I am ever so thankful to this man for showing my son the example he is to follow. These are the lessons we learn. This is what you do. This is how you act. And, as I confessed to a coworker as I almost cried in her doorway this afternoon, this is such a first world problem; I feel guilty for letting it get me down so.
Victoria called me after school to see if I wanted anything from Starbucks. “Are y’all going by yourselves?” I asked.
“Of course!” came her reply. “Aaron’s got his license; I told him to take me somewhere!”
Starbucks had been on our practice track enough that I didn’t worry so much on that one. I know my son needs those moments of independence, even though I want to hold his hand through each of them. It really wouldn’t be fair to him if I did. My mind flashed back to my high school days, tearing down Benton Road in my ’79 Buick Regal, wheels burning and spirt free.
I arrived home still in a funk tonight. Dom suggested I pour a glass of wine and take a bubble bath. “I don’t feel like a bath,” I said. I wasn’t sure what I felt like. Headbanging until my neck hurt? At this age, that would take about two beats.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m going to weed-eat.”
“Want me to mow?” I asked. Next thing I knew, I was on the mower, sailing through the backyard with 80’s pop and metal tunes blowing out my earbuds. I found Metallica’s One and added it to the playlist, seeing in my mind the boys from the band as they sat in front of the jukebox and headbanged every Friday night at Johnny’s Pizza on Benton Road. I thought of each of them, and of how they all came to my defense on the night I backed my car into another student’s car in the parking lot at Johnny’s. He (yes, he) wanted to physically fight me right there on restaurant property, but the guys got between me and him and basically said he’d have to go through them if he wanted to hurt me. My car and I both survived that night.
Thirty years later, that memory is still solid in my mind. Me… 17 years old with a license and a car, the future stretched out endlessly before me. And then I thought, for a moment, one of the final lines from one of my favorite books, “Ahhh…the wheel comes full circle…”