She tosses her school bag on the table and heads into the kitchen to grab her lunch. Just like any other ordinary school day that starts with a quiet breakfast for two and ends when she exits the car and tells me to have a good day.
And usually adds a thank you.
Those melt my heart a little bit. Because at 16, you don’t always consider the fact that the other members of your family are also heading into their “day,” whether it be work or errands or chores.
She retrieves her sandwich from the refrigerator — which she made for herself this morning — and adds it to her school bag. She senses that I’m staring at her and glances up.
“Are you excited?” I ask, in an eager attempt to sound cool and unaffected. To make this seem like just an ordinary school morning. Which in my heart feels NOT at all ordinary.
Her smile is my answer. She IS excited, and whispers “yes” as she leans in to hug me. I don’t usually get a morning hug, since proper teen protocol means no touching or otherwise acknowledging your familial relationship in the car drop-off zone.
Like a taxi driver with no payment other than the quiet, “Have a nice day.”
We break our hug and she looks me in the eye, while cracking a smile. “How are YOU?” she asks, and I realize that to put on an act won’t work this morning. She’s on to me. I’m screwed.
My baby is driving herself to school this morning. For the very first time.
ALL ALONE IN THE CAR. (Mothers of toddlers, let that sink in for a moment.)
And I am trying to be OK with it, really I am.
Milestones are awesome, each and every one of them. She is a good driver and we have spent countless hours driving all over our area over the past six months. A few miles to school should be a piece of cake.
For her, anyway.
My son started preschool a week after she was born, and our carpool days were just beginning. But now it’s been years since we were a carpool group of three. When she was in fourth grade her brother started high school, and he walked to and from school every day.
So for the past seven years, it’s been just the two of us on the morning slog to school. Sometimes we talk a little, nothing too heavy that time of day. Some mornings are quieter than others, and I just try to let that happen. When she started high school, I would drop her on a side street on days when the weather was nice— close enough to consider it a “ride” yet far enough away that nobody would see her with her mother.
And I would watch her walk away.
And in that mom part of my brain, I would see a little girl wearing a tiny backpack not large enough for any high school textbooks. A tiny little girl wearing adorable glasses, a pair of pink leggings and bangs that frame her sweet, smiling face.
And I imagine that I am dropping her off at kindergarten. It’s only for a few hours.
And I know she is growing up, and I LOVE watching her spread her wings and begin to mold her future. But I can’t always reconcile in my heart that the tiny girl in pink and the long-haired, 16-year-old carrying a trendy handbag for her books and wearing Chuck Taylors on her feet are the same person.
She’s heading for the door.
In her hands, she grasps a brand new lanyard that holds the keys to her independence. Literally.
And she is radiant.
“Have a nice day!” I say in a forced but chipper voice. She turns at the door and tells me to have a good day, too.
The door shuts behind her.
And I watch her walk away.