According to the state of Alabama, the Younger Daughter is now officially allowed to drive to Kale Smoothie Palace and Bendy Yogastore all by herself. And if you need anyone to go the grocery store, I’m yer man, she informs me.
To celebrate this milestone, there should be a madcap solo excursion somewhere, the vehicular equivalent of running through a field with outstretched arms. Free! No sullen, mall-hating parents to grumble at you when you inform them that you are out of jeans. Why do we not leap in the car with joyful abandon at every opportunity, as does the dog? Which must be a little how it feels for her, to leave the house, on her own, electric fence switched off. Sniffing the air and trotting off into a world of adventure with only her wits to guide her.
But her wits aren’t bad. She has started to give Socratic advice. (“I always find that if I need to ask someone for their opinion, I already know how I really feel about it.”) She is telling me about a poem she is reading and her thesis for the essay she is writing, which involves music and meter, the dance of family life. It’s a paper she could be writing in college. It’s one of those moments, when I see her adult life taking shape.
At the end of the day, we attend a presentation at school by a senior who talks about the history and evolution of human rights. I had suggested she attend, to see what lies ahead. Because you do that as a parent, whether it’s a toy or a novel or a concert. You expose them to ideas and experiences, not to tell them what to like or think, but to let them know the range of possibilities.
These presentations are the final projects of a group of seniors who have found a seminar topic to apply to an area where they have a personal interest, while connecting it to a particular period of history. Each one is like an intellectual butterfly release. The ideas they have hatched are unwrapped and something crumpled and dark is unfurled to reveal brilliant color and pattern. The Younger Daughter is already formulating her own topic as we drive home. She is done with driving for the day.
Or maybe not.
When we are home from school, she proposes that for kicks she heads out into rain and rush hour traffic to take an ENO strap — a bit of webbing for a camping hammock that will not be used tonight, what with the rain — to a friend’s house, a friend she will see at school tomorrow. It is just about the most pointless but symbolic act of solo travel I can imagine.
I say no, even while realizing that the force of growth and becoming as a driver and a thinker are intertwined. To try to push against one would just distort the overall shape of the whole. I can say no to the really stupid ideas but need to stand back and be prepared to be amazed, from the back seat, the driveway, as she goes solo.