The curse of second children seems to be that they’re not ever the first. Not the child to make parents out of us, not the first to have a birthday party, not the first one you drop at school, not the first to leave home, go to college, or have a girlfriend. To be sure, each child is unique and there are things that you haven’t seen before, but by and large, by the time that second child shows up you’re already seasoned parents and feeling well-equipped to handle all the things that make up a child’s life.
Our second son has had quite a few months over here. If you remember, last spring he was hired for his first summer job which led us to the labyrinth of his lifeguard certification.
He began lifeguarding in June and as his employer was understaffed, this basically meant we didn’t see him for most of the summer. In July, he turned 16 and we couldn’t even find time to do more than have a family dinner with his grandparents because he was working so much and even when he wasn’t most of his friends were lifeguards and they were working.
That sort of distance gives you a lot of perspective.
Watching him at his birthday dinner and seeing him express his amazement and gratitude on opening his gifts, I noted that once again we’d taken yet another step toward adulthood. Gone were the toys and ride-on cars he used to covet for birthdays.
Gone was the boy who couldn’t sit still or needed to be prompted to thank his grandparents. In his place was this mini-adult – a polite teenager who thanked us all more than once, taller than me now and, while still pleased to be the center of attention, didn’t quite know what to do in the glare.
Sixteen, of course, a big number for a teen boy here as they can finally obtain their learner’s licence. He eschewed the customary paper driver’s manual I picked up for him – his studying was done by app on his phone. In September (after finishing his summer job and starting back to school), I took him for the licencing test and he passed – first try. After the test, I bravely handed him the keys to my vehicle determined to make this moment even more memorable with a quick trip around the car park of the DMV. His face showed his surprise and joy as we took a quick snap of him sitting in the driver’s seat with his hot-of-the-presses permit. And then we drove.
Even after going through this once with my older son, this experience wasn’t any easier. It’s amazing how quickly you forget that ABSOLUTE TERROR of sitting in the passenger seat (even in a parking lot) with a teenage driver at the wheel totally in control of your fate, the fate of your vehicle, and of everyone else on the road. And that jolt the first time he applies the brakes even only driving 10 miles an hour…in that moment, as it saves you from hurtling through the windscreen, you’re reminded why seatbelts are mandatory. Often during our initial forays, I reminded myself of Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles who, when sitting in the passenger seat, has to peel his fingers out of the dashboard after a near-miss on the freeway.
Somehow, we got through those first terrifying days to a more comfortable place. He’s been driving about 3 weeks now. He’s learned to ease into the brakes, not to follow others too closely, and how to navigate a turn with a bit of finesse. He also points out my own mistakes when, on the rare occasions, I do get to drive. During these moments, I remind him that he is the statistic…..the male, under-25 driver that insurance companies hate and police know will be the cause of most accidents. Therefore, I tell him, his driving needs to be much better than my own. Hah.
Even though a level of “comfort” has grown on my part (though I still hang on to the overhead strap in the passenger seat most of the time)…..Switching places in the car – him driving, me riding – gives me a new view.
Perspective gives you a lot of distance to notice different things.
Sitting there in my passenger seat looking over at this earnest new driver so determined to do everything right, I’m trying to come to terms with a whole new person…A boy no longer little enough to sit on my lap and pretend drive – turning the steering wheel and making crash noises and vrooming sounds. This young man with a prominent Adam’s apple who shaves, spends more time on his hair than I do, and who takes great pride in having different tastes than mine yet who still looks for my approval on other things. A teen who has adapted to two new schools and moved house three times in under two years – cutting through the stress involved and making a new life for himself joining the swim team, the ski team, and even holding a job. And now, less a person just living in the moment and more a person who looks ahead – trying even to anticipate what others on the road might do in an instant. Perhaps that last one is a gift from the lifeguarding this summer, I don’t know.
What I do know is that this whole driving thing has been an eye-opening experience with this son in a way it never was the first time. Sometimes, maybe being second is better…..at least on my end this time I’m very well aware of where we’re actually headed. It’s occurred to me more than once that in handing him the keys to my vehicle, I wasn’t just giving him permission to drive. I wasn’t just stepping into a new experience with him. No, in handing him those keys, I was also giving him license in my mind to continue growing up.