“Did you listen to country music?” I text my now 17-year-old son, Zac, after his first week of driving. “Ofc,” aka “of course” (I will never get used to text acronyms, I thought “rn” was a nurse for a long time, before he told me it was “right now”).
My oldest son, Evan 19, has been driving for just over 2 years. Why does it feel different this time? I feel the same sense of anxiety, worry, or sleeplessness when Zac is driving. However, I also feel a sense of loss and a new season of life for both Zac and me.
Over the last few years I drove Zac just about every day. I view being a taxi driver as part of the job description. My mom did it for me, so I am carrying the torch. Between sports, work, his girlfriend’s house, the movies, we were all over the county.
“Can you take me and my friends to the movies?”
“Can you pick me up from soccer, take me home to shower and then drive me to work?”
I rarely said no, he rarely asked for too much. Just the usual shuttling around. The closer we got to his 17th birthday, the more I cherished these drives.
In New Jersey, you get your learner’s permit at age 16, and provisional driver’s license at 17. From the day he received his permit, until he passed his test on his 17th birthday, he drove everywhere. I am steadfast in my view on the learner’s permit phase. I have one chance, one year (or less) to teach him to drive in rain, snow, with kids in the car, with music, in traffic, over bridges and on highways. Once he turns 17, that’s it. He is on his own. So I took full advantage of those months, when we got in the car, no matter what, he drove.
During that time we would chat and listen to music, usually country music. Lucky for me, Zac shared a love for Thomas Rhett, Kenney Chesney, Old Dominion, Luke Bryan, just about any modern country. We would listen and we would sing! Sing, as if we could both actually sing. Truth be told his voice is much better than mine. Country songs, in particular, can make me choke up at any moment. Case in point, “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Atkins. Insert crying emoji here.
When my 19-year-old got his license I didn’t feel this change in seasons, or this feeling of loss. I didn’t cherish our last few drives. I remember the fear and anxiety that goes along with having a teenage driver. Afraid he would have an accident, hit a pedestrian, or text and drive. Despite our constant speeches about safe driving. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know that once he turned 17, I would go weeks/months without having him in my car at all. Or how hard it would be to nail him down to have a conversation with him.
There is something about staring straight ahead, with no need for eye contact, that spurs conversation with your teenage son. I didn’t know that he would stop listening to country music for the next two years (before remembering his love for it) because without me there, he chose rap (which I do love some Eminem now and then). I don’t remember my last drive with Evan, I took it for granted.
So those last few rides with Zac, I was sure to get in all my words of wisdoms. I asked lots of questions, listened very carefully to every word he said. Listened to any kind of music he wanted, country and otherwise. Sang as loud as and terrible as I could. His test was on a Friday. On Thursday morning he had 7 am soccer practice. You have never seen a mom so happy to get up and take her son to 7 am soccer practice! He got out of the car, and we did the swap (me moving to the driver’s seat), and I watched him walk away.
This time I am aware, I know what is coming. That Zac will grow, on his own, without me there sitting next to him. That when I want to talk to him, I will have to…. I don’t know, maybe get him in my car and make him drive me around. It sounds silly to say, “my son doesn’t need me anymore” because we all know, we never stop needing our parents. However, this little thing, this one little thing, his driver’s license, has lessened his dependence on me tremendously.
I will have to let go, and let him drive himself, learn from his mistakes, and choose his own music. So when I text him and ask, “did you listen to country music?” what I really mean is “have you forgotten our rides together.” It is a natural course of events that those memories will fade, he will forge his own path, and make his own choices about music, and otherwise. But for now, he still listens to country music, or at least he says he does.
Tricia Zurawski is a married working mother of four kids ages 19, 17, 12, and 9. She lives in New Jersey. She is a runner who loves her running tribe and believes running with them is cheaper than therapy. She thought parenting would become easier as her family grew, but she realizes she was so wrong.