Saturday, March 3, 2012


BIRDLAND HAS A NEW DRIVER, and for the last two weeks I've been getting up before the sun, even earlier than usual, to deliver Ellis to school for his 6 AM driving lesson. My youngest doesn't really need too many lessons at this point. He's pretty experienced. He and I drove to Seattle last summer and Ellis did over half of the driving, logging on about 3000 miles. But he doesn't get too many chances out here to practice parallel parking, so I'm grateful for the finer points his driving teacher is showing him.

 Driving to town pre-dawn is a different kind of experience. We drive past the already lighted windows of our neighbors, but don't meet many cars on the road. Out in the country, it's customary to wave to anyone we pass, whether we recognize them or not. It seems strange to my city friends, and if they are in the car they might ask curiously, “who was that?” Sometimes I can tell them, but more often I just shrug and say, “a neighbor.” In town, too, the roads are quiet, though we do see some early morning drivers off to an early work day. At the high school we park near the two driver's ed cars and wait for his teacher. It's the last lesson: Today Ellis will take his driver's test. I get a little choked up, thinking about it, and rummage around in the back seat for the blessing for new drivers he received at the church a few weeks ago. I read it to him again, a bit stiffly because it is a little formal, but he smiles and thanks me. The school car's lights flash as the teacher starts the engine remotely, walking toward the parking lot, and Ellis grabs his heavy backpack and heads off into his full day and into his new responsibilities.

 I am thoughtful as I drive home. I take the country road that curves up hills and through farms, past the pastures of cows and buffalo. The sun is just sending up a glow behind some clouds, creeping up from the horizon. The Earth is still dark, and I pause, actually park the car by the side of the road, to admire the silhouettes of buildings and trees. I see silos and grain bins, arranged in neat clusters, fences curving at the top of the hill. I am thinking about this next phase of my son's life, as the ties that hold him to me loosen another notch. Now he will be able to ask for the car keys and drive himself to pep band, to early morning practices, to get groceries for the household, or to go on a date. In some ways, it is a relief. My schedule has been tied to his for so long. Soon I, too, will have more freedom. But the other side of that coin is more worry. Will he drive carefully and safely without me? Will he follow the rules (my rules and the official rules of the road), wear his seat belt, follow the speed limit, refrain from texting, be home by curfew? Will he stay safe and keep his friends safe too?

These are important responsibilities and I think about the ways our culture marks people's entry into a new phase of life. If I could plan a ritual to mark these important transitions I would have them be equal parts sobering and celebratory. I want my son to celebrate his (and my) new freedom, but also honor the great responsibility that any great transition, including driving a car, brings. I mull over, for a little while, plans for his 16th birthday, and then I start up my car again and drive into the sunrise.

Travel in Beauty; Journey in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She wants to wish a very happy 16th Bird-day to Ellis. You spark my world.

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