My youngest just got his learner’s permit for driving. His sisters coached him through studying for the written test. I felt oddly removed from the process. I offered to help him study a couple of times, but he said, “No thanks, Mom. I’ve got it.” He passed on the first try.
Getting the permit was only step one, of course. He needs me for the next part because his sisters aren’t yet “of age” per Kansas law to be in the passenger seat while he learns to drive. So I am handing over the keys and wondering why it isn’t easier. I’ve been down this road twice. My oldest gets in her car at least once each day now, and I don’t always know where she is going. Middle kid is well on her way. She is three months from being a driver without restrictions, and in my mind (which is where it really counts) we are pretty much there, as well.
But here I am… actually making excuses for why my son might not want to try driving at highway speed for the first time today… the cold weather, the holiday traffic, the glare of the setting sun on the window… the fact that I just want to get there quickly (I don’t even speak this one out loud).
For the holiday weekend, I took my son and his sister back to the place of my birth for a two day visit. The roads in western Kansas (as opposed to east-central Kansas where we live now) are flat and straight and meet each other in tidy, perpendicular lines.
“These are the roads you need to learn to drive on,” I told my son, when the bulk of the trip was behind us. “There are no surprises. You can see the next car a mile or more away.”
He did drive a bit on those roads, but he didn’t see them as superior. He said, after a couple of miles, that there was a kind of hypnotizing quality to driving in such a straight line. We came upon a cross on the side of the road, less than a mile from my father’s rural home. It can be easy to forget that believing there are no surprises on the road ahead isn’t necessarily the way to live.
I would like to say that after so many years of unschooling, it is easy now to trust, to embrace the sometimes jerky starts and stops, the sudden braking when you thought you were accelerating and vice versa. I would like to claim I have learned better, but I am still guilty of embracing those old straight roads of my past. I am tempted to say to my son, “Just let me take you there. I will do the hard part. I’ll keep driving; you just tell me where you want to go.”
The thing about this lifestyle that we have chosen is that it is so fluid, so ever-changing, and while it was often easy to see, living day-by-day, that unschooling was a good fit for our family, I’ve had to remind myself now and again that not knowing exactly where we were going and how we were getting there was okay.
Driving is one of those milestones that has stuck as a reminder to me of just how close we are to the other end of things – fewer years ahead of the intense, time-together, days filled with each other than there are behind. Perhaps, because he is the last of my children, I feel the sting of days gone by more sharply. I find myself in a questioning place… What is my role here? How do I contribute now?
I am handing over the keys. I am riding in the passenger seat. I will soon be standing outside the car, waving as he drives away. Knowing. Trusting. Believing that he will master any surprises on his own road, in his own way. That has been the point all along, after all.
Today, he did not ask directions to our destination, and I did not offer. He took a new road, one different from our usual path, and he got us there all the same.