Your flip flop flies past me from the back of the car, bouncing off the dashboard and onto the car floor. I keep my eyes focused on the road. You are emptying yourself now into the space that is between us. Filling it with all of your 8-year old frustration and fear. I do my best to console and calm you as we drive home. We are both so tired.
The first time I put you into my car, I tucked all four pounds of you into a rear facing car seat and crept along the road with great caution and care, looking to protect you from all the dangers I could not see.
When you were 2, I would watch you fight off sleep in the car. Your round baby face flushed, your eyes would close as your curls fluttered gently in the breeze. It was so easy to tell if you had a good day. I could hear the delight in your laughter, feel it in the tight hold of your arms as you held me and asked me for more, more, more. More jumping in the pool, one more song, one more kiss. With ease, I gave you all that you needed.
The Kindergarten line was long, and from my driver's seat, I would search for you until I found your red curls in the line of tiny students with huge backpacks. Climbing in the car, you would ask for cookies before we even pulled away. I would hand you a cookie with a thermos of cold milk as you began to tell me about your day, at 5 years old, your feelings just flowed.
“Will I be okay Mom?”. You are 9 now and you ask me this again as we turn into the parking lot. You are clutching your bottle of water in one hand, and a book in the other. This is what you do. You carry a book with you wherever you go, sometimes two for extra comfort. “You’ ll be great I say” as our eyes meet. You sigh yet offer me a brave smile and reach for the car door.
Each Christmas time we fill our car full of girls. You pile onto one another, excited and happy. The windows are down and we take our annual tour of Christmas lights. You sing Christmas songs you play from your iPhones, you laugh and laugh and I hear your voice above all the others, strong and sure. This is what 13 sounds like.
“Go around again, Mom” you plead as we circle the neighborhood again. Timing is everything now. You can’t be too early, or too late. Nervous yet ready, without hesitating you jump from the car with your backpack, still carrying a book. It is your first year of high school.
I have driven you for fun, when you are sick to the doctor, and from playdates to high school dances. The car is our planning space, our calming place, and sometimes our crying space. I don’t remember when you moved to the front seat exactly, but I know that I wanted you there and I loved having you closer. We get in the car and talk about school, your worries or what brings you joy. Sometimes the music is loud, and when the sunroof is open you take out your sunglasses from your Kate Spade purse and smile at me from your seat. You are by my side.
You are 16 when we take our first-ever trip alone together. Sitting in the back seat of a cab we crawl the busy streets of New York. You grasp my hand tightly as you look out the window at the city have long admired from afar.For once, I am not driving and with nothing left for me to do, I lean into you and hold your hand tighter. Only a few days have passed since our new President was elected, and the streets are heavy with police and protestors, this new political landscape—a new potential threat.
Now, you are still vulnerable like the infant I once longed to protect, and although I don’t know exactly where you are heading, I know I have done my best. That I have given you a map to chart your route and a voice that is strong and sure. I know that you have the wisdom and comfort from the books that you have carried. I know that even when you are nervous, you will still leap and- land upon your feet and that you can see all that is new with wonder, laugh with delight and want more, more and more when something pleases you.
I do not know what is next, but I know what is now. And that is you and me and the space that will come between us.