The drop-off for my younger son’s driver’s education class at East Hampton High School happens before the sun comes up, before the school day starts, twice a week. We’re up at 0-dark-hundred, we’re in the cold car, we’re driving down our virtually empty street. Soundtrack: my son’s music, playing off his phone through the car speakers. It’s the Bad Brains, Sinatra, Ween, Kanye West, the Cults, Mac DeMarco, MF Doom; he also likes ’70s soft rock, and also impossibly contemporary music, released from the depths of the internet two minutes ago.
We get to the high school and it’s all quiet on Long Lane, zero bustle on the drop-off loop (combo — it’s still awfully early and we’re a little late). My son unfolds his body from the car, shoulders his school backpack, grabs his bag for swim practice, and his smoothie, and his phone. He’s framed by the car door opening.
Bye-bye, sweetie pie.
I blinker, check, move off; my son’s music keeps playing for a few seconds off the Bluetooth wireless before he takes his phone out of range, looping off into the building.
Once, the class was canceled, but neither my son nor I got the memo (after that, he started checking for updates). He sent me one of his strong-silent-type text messages with no frills, including grammar: mom its canceled. I was already home by the time I saw his message, the sky was turning a crazy brilliant pink, and there was another half-hour before I would have to start getting ready for my day at work.
Surely this was the most virtuous found half-hour ever, because it had been gained in service to the inherent and pressing good of my son’s eventual driver’s license and turned out to be an unnecessary, and therefore more potent, sacrifice. In the cosmic point system, this must count. That time is now in the bank, in case I ever need a half-hour for my own purposes.
The driver’s ed class is almost done. After this, I will surely never again in my life ever have to wake up at 0-dark-hundred and drive in a freezing cold car to East Hampton High School twice a week with my 16-year-old kid.
The temporary pocket of experience is a familiar mode in raising children. You have a routine that requires you to do whatever the program or the class or the club or the team or the season demands. You drive, you pick up, you stay on top of the e.t.a. back home, or wonder what the heck is happening when the competition day started literally 10 hours ago and they weren’t supposed to take money for dinner? And the bus, with your kid and everyone else’s kid, and what will turn out to be seven leftover boxes of pizza, has still not arrived from its mysterious sojourn someplace up the Island. They did well!
But this one is special. This is the temporary pocket of experience to end all temporary pockets of experience because a very few maneuvers after this (the actual learning-to-operate-an-automobile maneuvers), you will drive past the road sign that says: Last Exit Before the End of Your Usefulness as a Person. Perhaps I’m overstating the case. But driving my younger son, and his older brother before him, has been the most unequivocally, essentially, and obviously useful aspect of my life for the past 18 years.
Not to downplay my perhaps useful profession, or other being-useful aspects of my domestic or personal life, but someone has had to get those boys to the places they needed to be! Otherwise how would they become the people they are becoming? And, you know, come to think of it, sometimes their friends have been in the car, too, and of course my boys have been in other people’s cars — a lot — so now we’re talking about a whole web of mutually beneficial usefulness that is generally unremarked upon but cherished nonetheless. Thank you Boys Varsity Swim Team Car Pool Cartel — & etc.
That sign, Last Exit Before the End of Your Usefulness as a Person, is located somewhere on the roadways between East Hampton and Riverhead, where my son will take his driver’s test. On the way, I think there’s also a sign that says New Kind of Worry Ahead, and a metaphorical sign about Buckling Up, and also an ad for driving off into the sunset, a.k.a. the freedom of new independence, that last one flashing up on the Shinnecock Nation’s screen billboard on the Sunrise Highway.
Hopefully, my son will pass his driver’s test on the first try, though all manner of obstacles could befall him, among them nerves, the weather, parallel parking, and the epically super-mean driver test administrator who has rattled and failed many a youth, keeping the rest of us safe from the unquantifiable yet surely astronomical odds of everything from fender-benders to total loss at the hands of still-too-green teenage drivers.
But one day, when he passes the test and achieves the milestone of being a licensed driver (I see it as the second inevitability, after potty training), that’s it. Everything will be different, because the main functional difference between being an adult and being a child is having a valid driver’s license. There are some holes in this thinking. I know that! But I’m running it up the flagpole to see if anyone else who lives with teenagers in the clutches of car culture will salute.
And anyway, what is the functional difference between being a child and being an adult? Or is the difference simply not functional? Do you know it when you feel it, that fragile confluence of elements that emerges over time and reveals itself, incredible but manifest before you? My child is an adult now. Maybe I’ll take that half-hour out of the bank and use it to stare out the window and think about this.
We’re down to the last driver’s ed class. My son gets out of the car with all of his gear and his smoothie and his phone. Soundtrack: a song called “River” by Anonymouz — how does he find his music, where does it come from? This is a great mystery to me, a Gen-Xer trying to fathom him, a Digital Native/Gen-Zer. My son will be going into the school building now to do the thing he needs to do in order to do the next thing, then there will be a next, and another.
Bye, Mom, thanks for driving me.
Be still my heart!
Bye-bye, sweetie pie.
Blinker, check, move off. A few moments more of my son’s music before he’s out of range.
Evan Harris lives in East Hampton.