My daughter, Ariel, got her driver’s license yesterday. It was a momentous occasion. I am not sure if it was a greater rite of passage for her or for me. She is busy applying for jobs and trying to back me into a new schedule in which I will be permitted only limited use of my car. And I am wondering why that sweet six year old that used to hitch her dog to her Radio Flyer wagon couldn’t stay with me longer.
Getting a driver’s license is not what I remembered. We made our first attempt at it the day before, unsuccessfully. Thinking I was prepared, I had brought her passport with me for identification, which was woefully short-sighted. We were required to produce her passport, her birth certificate, her social security card, two pieces of government mail addressed to her at our house, proof of insurance for the test drive vehicle and her driving permit. I think that when I got my first driver’s license, my mother vouched for my identity and everything else, but I digress.
When Ariel was 18 months old, a friend’s younger sister interviewed me for a college essay. She asked me how my life had changed since becoming a mother. I told her, “Remember how your mother always told you not to run with scissors in your hand? When you become a mother, you feel at all times that you are running with scissors in both hands. With the pointy-ends up. Toward a cliff.”
All these years later, it’s still true. When you’re young, you go through life blithely ignorant of your own fragility and with a saucy indifference to the world of things that could go wrong. I can’t say that changed for me the instant Ariel was born, but I can recall with exquisite clarity the first time I held her and I realized that she was holding me back. In that moment, you realize just how much you have to lose and how easily you could lose it.
On December 23, 2011, I was out late doing holiday shopping. At 11:30 p.m. the phone rang. A few minutes later my husband called down the stairs, “Ariel has been in a car accident.” She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room because she had hit her head. Three hours later, after examining the x-rays, the ER doctor explained that there is nothing that can be done for a fractured cheek bone unless the eye socket becomes unstable. (I wonder if doctors realize the impact of their words.)
Ariel is fine. To me, the accident was a blessing because if she is a tiny bit more cautious, a tiny bit more worried about what her friends are doing behind the wheel, and a tiny bit more aware of how quickly you can be grabbed by the undertow, then it was a priceless lesson.
Today I will put her on our insurance and she takes her first steps out onto her journey for independence. She is smart and beautiful and full of life and talent and possibilities. With a little more freedom for her between us, I will do my best to encourage her to go while still trying steer her away from the undertow, away from the darkest part of the woods, and away from all those dangers that I ignored when I was blithely ignorant and full of saucy indifference.