There are so many maternal milestones to celebrate, from your baby's first smile, to the first night without diapers, to the first time your child stays home alone while you run to the store (and check your cell phone every 3 minutes). And so many significant purchases - the first big-kid Thomas The Tank Engine underpants, the first school backpack, the first training bra (or, since I have no girls and a boy who's serious about dancing, his first dance belt was equally embarrassing for him). But nothing is as big, or expensive, or as scary (to a parent with any imagination who reads the statistics about teen drivers) as the first set of wheels.
We tried to be good liberals and not add to our carbon footprint with an unneccessary vehicle, but like many teens, David has an extremely busy schedule and parents whose schedules don't always give him the car access or rides he needs. So we bit the bullet and let him buy a used Taurus with summer job & barmitzvah savings (and a bit of parental help). As we sat there filling out paperwork, I tried to impress upon him the significance of the occasion. "Someday, you'll tell your kids about this, and I hope it's meaningful for you. I still remember buying my first . . . " "Thanks for the history lesson, mom, now let's go check out the car!"
And I understand - a first car means independence, wordliness, and a huge sense of accomplishment if you earned the money. I worked 3 jobs one summer to pay for my first car (a '76 VW Rabbit with 150,000 miles on it, a sun roof, and a neon yellow exterior). I loved that car, and I was also really proud that I earned it all by myself. And oh, the car seemed to love me back, and ran like a dream until some moron in a Buick ran a stopsign and totalled my baby. (The Buick suffered minor bumper damage - life is NOT fair!)
It's wonderful to revisit that thrill, as I watch David proudly showing off his car, revelling in the automatic trunk release, and bossing his younger brother around when Ben tries to touch the doors. But it's also sad - the first hints of having an empty nest, sort of like that first day of kindergarten, when you realize your kid is starting to grow up. But it's also exhiliarating - since I was one of those kindergarten moms who got choked up for a moment, and then gloried in the freedom of a few hours to myself. But it's also dismaying - I don't think of myself as someone who is old enough to be the mother of a car-owner. But it's also incredibly cool - I raised a kid who works hard, saves money for a car, and is mature enough to handle driving. But it's also disappointing - no more heart-to-hearts in the car (when sitting side by side makes teens feel comfortable enough to open up a bit). But it's also gleefully liberating - I don't have to plan my schedule around when he needs a ride or a car, and when Husband 2.0 and I need some privacy, we can send him and his brother to the store to buy something we don't really need! But it's also unbelievably nerve-wracking - having your teen drive is already scary, but naturally everyone I know
has a story about some teen getting into an accident the first week in a new car. That's like my ex-mother-in-law, who had to tell me about someone she knew dying from anything I ever experienced, from childbirth to hangnails. Trust me, I worry enough without additional provocation!
To my husband, and most men, it probably sounds like I can't make up my mind how I feel about the whole thing. No, I feel ALL of those extremes, and more, just like mothers have a jumble of mixed feelings about every significant transition. I'm thrilled, sad, exhiliarated, dismayed, gleeful, nervous, and more - good grief, by the time I become a grandmother, I'm going to need a thesaurus! (Maybe by then I'll feel old enough - but I doubt it . . . )