Two weeks ago, my eldest son and I rushed after school to our local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. We made our way towards line 3 and when called upon, the woman patiently asked where the golden rod colored paper was as this son and I questioningly looked at one another. The one that provided the signature and proof that this boy had driven and passed with a certified driving school instructor.
We had to forfeit the appointment.
We both left dejectedly and waves of guilt washed over me. I thought I had checked the list for required documentation to take the behind-the-wheel driving test thoroughly and I saw the slump of the sixteen year old’s shoulders. I hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to take the test; to finally have a license to drive.
Why didn’t you check me? I asked this son. He shrugged as I apologized, again, and he stated that he was okay with it. He thought we had everything in order, too. It gave him more time to practice behind-the-wheel in his busy spring schedule.
I immediately went home and tore apart the files in my home office in search of the golden rod document. I had even called the driving instructor on his cell phone to inquire how to get another form while at the DMV. Within fifteen minutes of organizing and sorting I found the document and spent the following two hours in frustration, filing and shredding.
If I had been better organized, this son could’ve taken his test. It had already been a trying week and it took another 24 hours to reschedule another drive test appointment.
Two weeks later, we returned to this same line. This time we had all the required documentation and when the woman asked what time the test appointment was for, we both answered at the same time. I stepped away from the counter as he continued to answer her questions.
We proceeded to sit in the hard, plastic chairs in the very crowded DMV for an hour and when his name was called, I anxiously stood nearby as he was given instructions. As he drove the car into the drive test line, I focused my energy on not fidgeting; to remain calm for this son as he jibber-jabbered for another fifteen minutes and inched slowly to the beginning of the line.
When the instructor finally arrived I exited quickly and stood by a tree with others awaiting their drivers on tests to return. I glanced at the time as this son pulled away from the curb.
Within seven minutes my car had returned and as I slowly walked towards my son, I caught his reflection on the driver side’s mirror and immediately knew what had transpired. He had failed his drive test.
He chose not to drive home and crawled to the back seat of my car; angrily dealing with his humiliation. He wanted to tear up the examination sheet and when I asked where it all went wrong, he claimed he didn’t know. The instructor had simply written his suggestions, politely asked him to return to the DMV parking lot and exited the vehicle.
Upon reading the examiner’s words I inwardly cringed. Critical driving error. And though my heart hurt for this son; the one not used to failing anything, a surprising emotion had risen unbidden to my consciousness and I chastised myself.
I was secretly glad.
I couldn’t put into words these conflicting feelings until I sat across my childhood friend I’ve known since aged nine. We both had left our humble, small-town upbringings to attend universities four hours away in the city . As a high school language teacher in a highly ranked school district, she shared the scenarios that play out before her, day-after-day.
All work and no play.
She handed me the book by Dr. Stuart Brown; hoping that the next generation can still cling to open, unstructured time. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.
This is an ongoing conversation between us; she as an educator and myself the parent of two high school teens. The high school years have become the pressure cooker, high stakes years when students build resumes and look towards college admissions.
- They shuttle from one structured organized activity to another; not for the love of learning or joy of playing…but to stay afloat and rise above their peers.
- They have various extra-curricular activities to fill all of their free time, burden themselves with advanced placement courses and stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to fit it all in.
- They hire tutors or become tutors themselves, adding the time to community service hours to check that block on their application resume.
We sat for three hours dissecting the high school years we lived versus the ones our children currently live in. Living two hundred miles from our hometown we easily understand how different our upbringings were versus those of our children.
As mothers we both feel like hamsters running in place as we do the things we are expected to do.
We go to work, we parent our kids, we try to be good spouses and multi-task efficiently to prove we are productive and don’t waste time. Our time is structured and the words come back to haunt us. All work. No play.
As we sat in her car in a crowded restaurant parking lot, the words began to form on the fringes of my mind. My dear friend stated the obvious.
We forgot how to play.
Her version of unstructured time was in socializing; making time for friendships.
Both avid readers, I had shared my desire to go to a tea house after reading Lisa See’s The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane. My girlfriend teaches in the community where this book takes place and, surprisingly, portrays the same scenarios we live. The Play book had not been on my to do list, this weekend, but I found myself making the time.
Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.
I returned home telling my husband I craved tea and scones as he made a fresh pot. My girlfriend and I hadn’t realized the long waiting lists to even have tea in a local tea house. Reservations needed to be made a month in advance. When we looked online at menus and saw the cost; both of us opted to forego this option for the time being.
The hubs muttered under his breath how he was doing his part and so, I found myself perusing my recipes on how to make scones.
As I kneaded dough, like Play Doh, I realized how I contributed to my son’s critical driving error and I replayed the seemingly disconnected thoughts in my mind trying to make sense of them.
I processed the words I had shared with my girlfriend, who happens to also be this son’s godmother.
- How I questioned his maturity level when he was behind-the-wheel recently.
- That, after leaving the DMV two weeks ago I had felt guilt ridden and then began angrily questioning why I had felt guilty.
- When I was sixteen I knew all the rules. I made my own DMV drive test appointment. I had all my documentation. I did it on my own.
- When this son drove, he relied on my instructions to reach our destinations. Rarely did I remain silent to let him make his own mistakes or figure out the directions by himself.
This feeling of guilt persisted but not for the reasons I had thought.
I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.
- The one that scheduled the online DMV appointment.
- The one that, when my son was questioned and he didn’t immediately answer, filled in the space and answered with him at the same time. I had caught the glance he shot me; one of irritation.
- When I questioned the son if he had checked me, he really should have been doing all this documentation search on his own and I should’ve checked myself. Checked myself out.
He has suffered setbacks but he must learn how to cope with rejection. I am not teaching my son how to be independent and, much as I tell myself he must fail, he never does.
Until he failed his drive test.
It was a critical driving error. He had been asked to turn left at the intersection and when the signal had turned green, he had made the left. But there had not been a left turn signal and he had not waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through the intersection first. He had just went for it.
I had looked at my son through the rear view mirror that day, after reading the examiner’s words while stopped at an intersection and calmly stated the following. I know you will never forget that rule again. That could be fatal. My son had silently shaken his head in agreement.
I had known all along he hadn’t been ready but it took someone else to finally drive it home.
I walked into the computer den, announcing to my boys that dinner and tea would be ready in ten minutes. They confirmed with grunts and nods, questioning the comment about tea but I had exited the den to check on my scones. My sons know I am not, normally, a baker of any sort, unless it is cookies during the holidays.
My husband watched me pull out our fine china and tea cups; wondering if I had lost my mind. Are you seriously bringing out your tea sets? I brought out five different settings and began to set my table.
I am a mom of three boys and a husband and have no occasions to have a tea party. But I’m going to have one, just because.
Our boys came to the table staring in surprise. It was the youngest son who summarized succinctly. This looks like those play tea sets from preschool for girls. He was surprised to discover there were tea sets for adults.
The hubs poured the tea and the middle son got his finger caught in the dainty tea handle. I had to hold the cup so he could gingerly wedge his finger out.
They discovered the scones and readily ate them, placing blackberry jam on their tea plates and gingerly holding fine porcelain cups. They even pointed their pinky fingers out and stoically posed for my pic; for posterity.
They didn’t even question why we were having scones and tea in fancy china; they merely enjoyed the food and to my husband’s chagrin, quickly drained the pot of tea he painstakingly made.
I have finally learned my lesson from my son’s DMV experience.
Later, I sat on this son’s bed and candidly shared my thoughts and that, when he is ready, I’ll direct him to the online DMV page to schedule another drive test. I brace myself, and my son, for his upcoming senior year so that when rejections come, he will pick himself up after disappointment. He feels the pressure as his junior year is coming to a close; as do I.
In this whole process I am most surprised by this son’s resiliency after taking some time to lick his wounds. For this I am glad. I am slowly exiting the hamster wheel; finding my footing in the things in life that bring me joy outside of my family.
It’s time for me to create unstructured down time, turn up the music, find my rhythm and throw some more tea parties.