My son is purchasing his first car today after school. While there is a cloud of excitement around him, I find myself holding back the tears. The very tears he has no time for.
You see, his buying a car makes me wonder how I got to this place. The place where my baby is a man and has lived enough years to earn the freedom to drive down the road without me. The place where he chooses friends over me. The place where he has a job and can pay for said car. The place where he’s so close to leaving me, I feel it bubble in my chest and the thought of turns my stomach.
My Son Just Turned 16
When I look at him behind the wheel I see him when he was one and taking his first steps holding on to the coffee table to balance himself. It was hard but he stuck with it until he could take a few steps without falling. We had so much more time ahead of us to spend together then. If we had a bad day, I had so many more days to do things over and time to learn from my mistakes.
When I see him holding the keys in his hand, it takes me back to the day I got my first car. My 16 year-old-self thought she knew everything.
She thought she had really struggled thus far, but really, she hadn’t seen her toughest years yet. Back then if someone had asked me where I thought I’d be when I was forty-four, I would have told them I’d be happy every day, married, and a person who made very few, inconsequential mistakes. I didn’t think I’d be someone who had angst figured out. I figured I’d be immune to heartbreak. I’m not.
This isn’t the first milestone my child has hit, but it’s a big one. And each time there’s a stepping stone in one of my kids lives–a graduation, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a job, a new school year–it takes me back through the years and makes me think of all the life they have lived.
It makes me miss the old times. It makes me angry because time slips by too fast. It causes me to want a redo some things because after each experience they have, I know so much more I end up wondering things like, Did I hold them enough? Did I spend enough time with them before they got such a big social life of their own? Did I make enough of an impression on them before they became so independent?
But these steps my teens have take into adulthood do more than cause me to miss their younger years, and my own. They make me nostalgic for all the people who were with us during those times.
Our bodies are older but in many ways, our souls are not. We still feel like the vulnerable, younger versions of ourselves. When our kids start spreading their wings, it’s easy to compare what we thought we’d be doing at this point in our lives to where we really are.
Maybe you thought you’d have more money in your retirement account when your teens started filling out college applications. Perhaps you thought you’d know exactly what to say when they experienced their first heartbreak. You might have thought you’d be happy in your career at this point or for sure you would have taken that long-yearned-for trip to Bali.
And if you haven’t done the things you thought you do by the time your kids are older, these big moments for them become just as much about you and your life as they are about them and their life.
My son is getting his first car today. I guess I thought that when I had a child of my own who was old enough to drive, I’d feel more cemented into my life. I would know what was coming next. I’d be better at handling difficult situations. I wouldn’t have a plethora of insecurities and I’d be much better at fractions.
Instead of beating ourselves up and questioning if we’ve done enough and if we are enough, we should take these milestones our children reach and realize that we are always evolving. Life is a journey and we have more time ahead of us. Just because you aren’t where you thought you’d be in your own life right now, doesn’t mean that path no longer exists.
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