By Katy M. Clark
May 9, 2023
I glance at you in the driver’s seat. Your profile has become that of a man since you left for college.
In my heart, though, I see the little boy you once were.
We are riding in your battered sedan, heading home from your sophomore year of college. Many of your possessions are jammed in the backseat and trunk, while the rest are in the truck your dad drives behind us.
Like most parents of teens, I have come to appreciate car rides as a time when you open up and share with me. Yet, there’s something different about this car ride than just a chance to chat. Maybe it’s the occasion — another year of college done. Maybe it’s how taken aback I am by your appearance — you, my son, are grown up.
As the wheels turn, and the scenery flashes by outside, I am awash with memories of all the other moments we have shared in the car. These rides tell the story of raising you. Of loving you.
Who knew that a lifetime of car rides could mean so much?
When I strapped you into the car seat as a newborn and drove you home from the hospital. You were so tiny and innocent. “They just let us go home and take him?” your dad asked, his eyes wide with disbelief as he cautioned the other cars on the road to be careful around us.
When you cried in your car seat in the following weeks, months, and even years, oh, how I wished you would take a pacifier! As you grew, things like a sippy cup or a toy might soothe you. Other times, it was only sitting in the backseat holding your chubby hand while your dad drove us.
When you were a toddler, babbling away as you pointed and kicked from your bigger car seat. You lit up upon spotting trucks and construction equipment. Who knew that being your mom would teach me the exact differences between diggers, backhoes, excavators, and front loaders?
Then suddenly it seemed you were in elementary school and there were car rides to practices, games, birthday parties, cub scouts, and more. In particular, I smile at the memory of giving you rides home after holiday class parties. It took me a while to realize you wanted me to attend just so I could take you home early from school!
When we rode together to middle school, you were all arms and legs getting in and out of the car. I dropped you off for your first school dance in sixth grade. I picked you up late because, yikes, I had written the time down wrong. But you didn’t care, and you told me about dancing with a girl. I played it cool, eyes on the road, while my heart welcomed the communication.
In high school, there were countless rides that somehow led to the fast-food drive-thru. We ordered the entire menu as you and your appetite grew. And then you moved to the driver’s seat, learning how to drive, while I clutched the passenger door and pressed imaginary pedals on the floorboards.
When you drove off as a licensed driver, I thought our car rides together might be over. But then you needed me to sit beside you in the parking lot at Urgent Care. I watched as you tilted your head back and a nurse thrusted a swab up your nose. The surreal experience of COVID-19 testing during the pandemic.
And you needed me to drive you to your freshman year of college. I felt like the car was bursting with so much stuff, while I was bursting with pride and tears. To now, your sophomore year in the books, a contented ride home for summer break.
And what next? I can imagine a time when your life is told by the car rides you take without me. Perhaps after your wedding, leaving with your bride by your side. Or backing out of my driveway one day, a family of your own in the backseat.
Who knew that a car ride home from college could stir such memories, feelings, and thoughts? That any of the car rides I took with you over the years would tell our story as mother and son — and mean so much?
I look at you sitting beside me in the car and am filled with gratitude and love. For the ride.