Summer. The ideal time for a road trip. Not that Americans need an excuse to spend copious hours of time in their motor vehicles. Those of us between the ages of 35 and 54 spend an average of 15,291 miles a year driving our cars, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That’s a lot of miles. And yet, there’s been a lot of chatter recently about Americans’ dwindling love affair with the automobile.
Kids these days do the darndest things. Take Rami Bedewi, a freshman at Johns Hopkins. As a kid, Bedewi built model cars, but by the time he was in high school he was ready for something a bit more challenging. So he constructed a one-seat hybrid vehicle that can travel from New York to D.C. on one gallon of gas. Just, you know, for fun.
I am struck by the speed-of-light passage of time these days. In the last few, Emily has headed off for the first day of her senior year, and she is full of energy, excitement, plans. Meeting other seniors in the “senior parking lot” to put window paints on their cars. Things like “SEN YAS!” and “Class of 2012 Rules!” I know kids have been doing this for generations, but not mine. This is a first, and there is something solid stuck in my throat. There is a direct and inverse correlation between her happiness and my bittersweet resignation. She is emerging, and I am becoming irrelevant. Her start is my finish. At least, in terms of this precious chapter of our lives together. I hear from other parents that life is good, sometimes better, after they go off to college. But the desperation I feel to make each of the next 350 days special, better, how I want her to picture her childhood, clouds any chance of seeing that image.
Time seemed to stretch out forever when she was little – there was the FUTURE. We were focused on things like reading, dance class, playdates. Now, I find, there is no time. The bell is ringing, and I’m not sure we got it all done! Hands up! Pencils down! Have we said everything we meant to? Done everything we intended?
When you make your life about someone else’s life, I think it is impossible not to worry what will remain when that person leaves. Our first is not our only, so we really won’t know right away. But I fear my invisibility differently today. Our younger children will grow and leave, too. We’ve always known this. But now, with Emily literally counting down the days, I can feel it – heavy, slick, loaded.
We have taken pictures every 1st day of school for Emily’s entire life, standing in the same spot, school uniform clean and pressed. This morning, she stood in front of the rocking horse, Senior Class t-shirt hitched at her hip, hair neatly twisted, cupcakes in hand. It is a picture I will never forget – my baby’s last 1st day at home. I wish for her every joy, every happiness, that this world has to offer, even if she will go experience them on her own.