Ups and downs, ins and outs, curve balls and random collisions. Who said Life was going to be easy? As I sort it out, here's a collection of my essays, newspaper columns and mental meanderings about family, friendship, ecology, politics and a world that goes bump in its fright.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Equal Time for Austin

The photo accompanying this post tells you why I don't have as many lovely photos of my son as I do of my daughter, even though they both occupy equal real estate in my heart. From the time he was 4, I couldn't point a camera without him contorting his features into a facial pretzel -- and believe me, he could come up with some doozies, as this one demonstrates. I'm not entirely certain what that impulse was about -- maybe a way to avoid the domination of Mom's doting. Maybe a way to show that he wasn't soft or sentimental, that he was a real guy and guys don't have much need for serious photos or anything that would make him look, God forbid, well-behaved. Or maybe he's just a goofball. He is, after all, my kid, and I was the first person to teach him to make some of those faces.

At any rate, in the interest of equal time, here's the column I wrote when Austin got his license -- a much more harrowing experience for me. He is my firstborn and I was a lot less experienced at letting go back then. I finally had to turn his driver's education over to a friend, lest I drive my son and myself completely round the bend with my worry and overreaction. Sometimes the best parenting is realizing when you've reached your limits and being willing to call in reinforcements.

Life is usually more difficult than it looks
By K.C. Compton
This is so bizarre. I am sitting in the front seat of my car next to this tall, handsome kid with the great grin and the weird sense of humor. We've been here a thousand times before, only this time, the seating arrangement is reversed.
How could I possibly be the mother of this person in the driver's seat of my Toyota? The last time I remember really thinking about my age, I was 26. That was just a few months ago, wasn't it? It certainly couldn't have been more than a decade ago. Or could it?
Here he is sitting behind the wheel, shrugging sheep-ishly and saying 'Sorry, Mom," as the transmission takes a bite out of first gear. And here am I, remarkably calm as I think, "This is the part where I give him his first driving lesson. This is the part where I take deep breaths and don't shriek in wild maternal panic when he gets too close to the curb."
We're on a deserted street, the car has plenty of gas, and I figure there isn't a lot he can do to damage the car since there are no nearby trees or other large, immovable objects to rearrange. In a window of the lone house in the neighborhood a curtain slowly raises and an ancient face peers out.
"Martha, I think those children are doing drugs," he mimics in a wobbly voice as he glances toward the window. The curtain flops back down as if the observer had heard the kid's joke. The Toyota hippety-hops down the street as Austin attempts to conjugate the verb β€œto clutch.”
"This is harder than it looks," he says as the car dies for the tenth time in two blocks.
It is, indeed. I'm having a remarkably good time, though, considering that my firstborn is teetering on the rim of the nest, about to wing his way out of the shelter I've spent the better part of my adult years constructing for him. I'm letting go, even rejoicing as I do so. I've raised him well; I trust who he is. I know I can back out of the picture and let him take the wheel of his own life, even if only a block at a time.
But it's so much harder than it looks. I worry about other people's role in his future much more than I worry about him. I know if he can see what's coming at him, he's competent enough to handle it. But what if someone or something β€” a drunk, a disease, a bomb β€” blind-sides him and he's caught off guard for one vulnerable moment?
A part of me wants always to be riding shotgun in his life, looking for hazards he might not have the experience or the vision to see. An impractical impulse, I know, since steering down my own path in life frequently takes all the resources I can muster. Still, the urge to cover for him grips me and I know I'm not ready to turn him over to the Out There quite yet.
Letting go is a discipline, a learned skill in some ways as mechanical as the interplay between the car's accelerator and clutch. I let out or, the rules, and increase the personal accountability. I pull back on my control of his situations and accelerate my faith in whatever gods may be. And sometimes I must slam my foot hard on the brake to prevent catastrophe.
Learning to release my child to his own future has been a gradual education, one that probably began when he took his first step. Still, letting go is an uneasy process, and I know my efforts are sometimes as clunky as his fledgling attempts at driving.
My hope is that he'll forgive my insufficiencies as I forgive his. By fits and starts he's arriving at his destination. And so, I suppose, am I.
Some things you only learn by doing


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