Alone Together

By Megan Willome

Two people in a car

I am a mom. I drive, therefore, I am.

With a son in college, I drive less than I used to. But I am also driving more than I expected at this stage because my 16-year-old does not have her license. Driving is not her priority, which is fine. It gives us more time in the car alone together.
A few years ago I wrote in this space about the hassles of going to the DMV with my son to get his driver’s license. It’s only gotten worse since 2012.

In the absence of a driver’s license, I decided my daughter needed an ID card. Before we went to the DMV, I looked over the list of acceptable forms of identification that she lacked: a concealed handgun license, a military ID, a pilot’s license, a voter registration card. She had no marriage license, no divorce decree. Why had I never put her name on the mortgage? I’d thought it was a good thing that she’d never been in trouble with the law, but I never realized a Texas inmate ID card could be so valuable. Her expired passport was no good. They wanted a paycheck stub, but her first job would start later that month. At least she had a bank statement.

Somehow I brought the right combination of documents to the right clerk, and she got her ID. She can board a plane without me or verify her identity while shopping. We used her ID to renew her passport. And in the meantime, I drove her to that first job at a greenhouse outside of town, 80 miles a day. As the months and miles accrued, I began to feel grateful that she didn’t have that learner’s permit.

On the drives to her workplace, sometimes she had a lot to say and sometimes nothing. The nothing times weren’t silent because we listened to her podcasts or to her music. There were times we had great discussions, like when I asked, “Can you explain Tumblr?” There were times when everything went awry for unknown reasons. Maybe the earth wobbled on its axis, or maybe a friend said something rude on Snapchat. Maybe she was actually tired. Maybe I was tired too, and reading too much into everything.

When I was a teenager, I was rarely an enjoyable driving companion. I gave my parents the silent treatment when they drove me to college, four hours away. I yelled things at my mother I wish I could take back, especially now that she’s gone. I’d love to ask her, “How did you not throw me out of the car?”

Now I know how she kept from doing it. I’m a mom. We don’t do that sort of thing.

Before my son got his driver’s license (three years and 40,000 miles ago), it seemed like the only time we talked was in the car, our entire relationship distilled into 10-minute increments. All his activities, all sports-related, centered at the high school, and I counted how many times a day I made the 5-mile drive to campus. Any day it was only two — there and back again — was a good day.

No, that’s not right. More drives meant more time to talk. I was not at my best at midnight, picking him up from an away game, whereas he was positively bubbly at that hour.

Looking back, I should have brought coffee and forced myself to be chatty. I learned my lesson and made sure I was properly caffeinated for every drop off and pick up for my daughter’s summer job. I’m glad I did because many of our drives included a little extra adventure — like a tractor that went 20 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone, a donkey stopped in the middle of the road, a flock of sheep — mostly rams — crossing that same road.

These days it’s rare for me to be in the car alone with my son. The magic of two people in a car — a parent and a child who is no longer a child — diminishes when the young person lives independently and is perfectly capable of driving himself. Now we’re two adults in a vehicle, and one of us happens to be behind the wheel.

But before my daughter gets her license, when we can still laugh about agricultural encounters, there is this in between space I’d forgotten existed. It’s mysterious. It can occasionally be maddening. It’s oh, so short.

About a month into my daughter’s job we learned her supervisor lived one block away. She could have a ride to work anytime. I gave her the phone number, although I did not want to give up our miles in the car, whether they were pleasant or not.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll ride with you.”

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