I have driven my daughter to school nearly every day for the past four years. We got off to a rocky start mornings were mostly quiet, with her dozing in the car. No more books on CD or listening to NPR for me -- she wanted quiet on the way to and from school.
I quickly learned not to ask many questions -- two was the limit. I also discovered that the worst question to ask was, "Why are you wearing that to school?" Comments like that were met with disdain, and even though I thought her clothing combinations were odd and knew that her closet was full of brand new items we purchased before school began, I decided to keep my feelings to myself.
The first day we drove up to the all girls high school, which is near my downtown office, it occurred to me that my daughter was unsure of herself -- she needed my encouragement, not criticism. The end of the school day wasn't much better. I was ready with questions about how her day went, what had gone on in school, did she like her teachers, was she making any friends? I didn't get any answers.
Many days she walked to my office after school -- I work for a nonprofit and she did volunteer projects to satisfy her high school community service requirements. She buzzed around the office and discussed her day with my co-workers but rarely with me. She joined a sport that practiced after school; the spring season was rough and she was exhausted most days.
The first year was over soon. During the summer months, I knocked off several books on CD and got used to being alone in the car again.
Year two started off much differently. She declared the first day, "I get to start every day with Latin class -- isn't that great?"
I was shocked. She chatted most of the way and jumped out of the car when we arrived at school. She hugged friends that she hadn't seen over the summer and ran into the building with them. She was making friends and doing well in school. Our rides together were still mostly quiet ones, but she became more willing to talk about what was happening in school. I knew which teachers she liked, what homework was due when and who her friends were. Toward the end of the school year, she took a lifeguard class and got a job at our town pool. That first job helped her develop more self-confidence. Our little girl was growing up.
Year three brought new surprises. I was informed on Day One that she had the toughest and most feared history teacher in the school. But early on, when she received a low grade from this scary person, she faced the fearsome teacher to ask why. The teacher explained what she was looking for and how my daughter's submission could have been better. She turned out not to be so scary after all. This legendary woman became the favorite teacher that year. She was an excellent teacher, one who challenged these young women to expand their views of the world by becoming students of history. All of this was revealed to me during those car rides to and from school.
I now find myself near the end of our journey together. Seated next to me in the car is a self-confident young woman who is about to head off to college. We talk politics, current events, issues with friends and how not to reveal too much on Facebook. I tell her how to stay safe, to have fun and be open to everything that the great college she is going to has to offer. The last car ride is coming soon.
I know during our time together I became a better mother, learning to listen more than talk, and understanding that her questions were more important than my answers. I have been thinking a lot about our daily rides lately and how much I am going to miss them and the lovely young woman I have had the pleasure to get to know over the past four years.