When Aubrey was in fourth grade, we lived on Argo, about two blocks from Cambridge. She desperately wanted to ride her bike to school, but she was still in training wheels, and I just wasn’t ready. There was no way I was going to let her toddle off, unstable, shakey, about to fall over at any second, without my being right next to her. Then Ron taught her to ride her bike, the training wheels came off, and half my excuse was gone.
I still couldn’t handle the idea of her falling, or being kidnapped, or eaten by wolves, and my not finding out about it until 4pm when she didn’t make it home from school. This was ages before it was nothing for a nine year old to have a cell phone, nor were there “family plans,” so I wasn’t about to shell out $70 a month for her to ride her bike to school. Instead, we came up with the compromise of her calling me from the school office as soon as she got to school. Although the school wasn’t so thrilled with the idea of letting her use the phone every single school morning, all it took was one glare and they let it go.
So Aubrey was on her own. It was her first foray into autonomy, and one of the most difficult things for me to handle…at that time, anyway. Every morning, I would frantically stand staring at the phone, willing her to call me and let me know she made it. Those were the longest four minutes of my day, every day.
Eight years later, and she’s got a car. It’s a decent, safe car. It has all new tires, gets great gas mileage, and brakes well. It also doesn’t go much above 60 mph. Of course she wants to drive it to school. And of course, I can only imagine her crashing, being kidnapped, or eaten by wolves (after the crash). It doesn’t matter that we live seven blocks from school, that there is no traffic, no stoplights, and only four stop signs between here and there. I still want to know that she made it okay.
Today was her very first day to drive herself to school without someone else in the car. She didn’t have to be at there until 9:55am, so there wasn’t even any school traffic. She got her parking permit yesterday, so she is legally allowed to park on campus. She’s insured, licensed, and today she knows how to turn on the car. She’s 17 and a half, and will leave for college in seven months. None of that matters. I still made her call me when she got to school. It was another lifetime of four minutes, as I waited for the phone to ring.
Every now and again, we drive down Argo, and I remember how scared I was, how impossibly far away Cambridge seemed from our house. I remember how excited she was when she made the trek for the first time. I’m sure at some point, I will look back at this tiny little distance in the car and laugh at how nervous I was, but for now, she still has to call.
“Down this little slope, down my little mountain,
Start by the driveway spinning up to speed,
Careful on the gravel ’cause it’s nasty on the knees.
Watch out for the branches on that apple tree.
Soar down to the corner.
Well I guess it’s not as high as I remember.
It might not be a mountain after all,
But it was hard enough to climb,
And steep enough to coast,
Long enough to satisfy,
And fast enough to boast.
It may look to you like nothing much to see
But you should see the way it feels to me.”