When my son was 5 years old my husband and I temporarily lost our minds and spent a ridiculous sum of money on a mini version of a Hummer for him to drive around the neighborhood. This car was totally amazing. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was part of our financially strapped, joint mid-life crisis. We couldn’t actually afford a pair of Porsches or a duo of Lamborghinis for ourselves, so instead we settled on a mini Hummer for our 5-year-old. We thought we were pretty great parents that year.
Of course, as all parents who have ever watched their children ignore their plethora of play toys and opt instead for a bevy of beaten up pots and pans to play with can guess, he was not at all interested in this outrageously fabulous vehicle. We spent countless hours trying to interest him in the Hummer. But no amount of creative cajoling could entice him to set foot in the birthday mobile.
Finally, one day I was making dinner and I glanced out the window and saw him climb into the Hummer and turn the key. I was elated. I called my husband to tell him the great news but by the time he picked up the phone, my son had exited the vehicle and was talking animatedly to himself just a few feet away from where he’d begun. I hung up the phone and raced outside to question his curiously short road trip.
“I just needed to get to the office,” my five-year-old explained. Then, like a chip off the old block, he gently invited me to go back inside, “I have work to do, mommy.”
I returned to the kitchen to finish dinner. After about a half hour of “office work,” my son hopped back into the Hummer, turned the key and drove for about three seconds until he reached home and entered the kitchen. “Hi mom, I’m home from the office,” he chirped brightly. At that moment, I realized that no matter how good our intentions, kids find enjoyment in the activities they love and not necessarily in the ones we adults think they should. We could’ve bought my son a mini Boeing 747, and he would only have used it as a vehicle to act out whatever adult behaviors he was working on at the time. That’s just who he was. He pretended he was a grown up and loved to mimic grown-up behavior. We came to understand that it was his way of making sense of the world around him. He never played for the sake of playing. He is what you’d call an “old soul.” He’s always wanted to be an adult and we were foolish to think that a souped-up Hummer would change that.
He loved sitting in my car pretending to drive. He loved acting out swim lessons with me as the student and him as the teacher. He loved dressing up like his dad and going to the office to see patients. No matter how many ways I tried to get him to drop the grown up scenarios and play for the sake of playing, kid stuff like that just wasn’t in his repertoire.
He is now a 15-year-old young man with a compassionate heart, a solid work ethic and a yearning to take on the world as a full-fledged adult. He is who he’s always been so it shouldn’t be hard for me to accept his burgeoning adulthood. But today as we sat in the Motor Vehicle Division waiting for him to take his written learner’s permit test, I found myself struggling with a different set of emotions.
I’ve heard hundreds of parents tell me, “Enjoy the moment. They grow up so fast.” I’ve always found that kind of unwarranted advice to be more of an annoyance than a comfort. And I’ve always sworn never to unload that piece of counsel onto other parents. But today I’m wallowing in the reality that they do grow up so quickly and within what feels like a nanosecond, they are ready to venture into the world without you.
As parents, it’s our job to find ways to remain relevant in our kids’ lives. Hopefully, we won’t always be their primary caregivers. But when that role ends, how do we morph into something that still matters, that continues to resonate with who they are and enables us to maintain connection and purpose? The reality that kids grow up and leave home has always been there. It’s just so incredibly painful when you stand toe-to-toe with that truth.
My son drove home from the DMV. It was his first time driving on major roads and his first experience in rush-hour traffic. We’ve been practicing in parking lots and around the neighborhood for a few months, so I knew he was ready to test out his developing skills.
He did a great job. Well, aside from that one turn. But more importantly, he and I are renegotiating our relationship and learning from one another about how we can navigate his journey into full adulthood while still balancing my need to be his parent and guide his growing independence. It’s not always easy. Sometimes he’ll erupt into a toddler type tantrum. Sometimes I do the same. I still have a lot of parenting to do. I’m not sure that ever actually ends. But we’re growing up together and it’s a pretty amazing journey.
Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother and blogger based in the Phoenix area. For more of her work, visit unmotherlyinsights.com.