Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Rite of Passage

My sixteen-year-old daughter got her driver’s license recently and I was surprised by my reaction. Of course, I worried about all the other drivers on the road who wouldn’t have much patience or even care that she was a new driver. And it was a given that I would worry about her inexperience, her measured responses which were just a fraction too slow as she took time to think about a maneuver that must be instinctive. No, what surprised me was how sad I was that this child, my second daughter to get a driver’s license was old enough to do so.

When my oldest had reached this stage of life, I didn’t feel this way. I encouraged her and was proud of her accomplishment—the fact that she was confident, sure yet cautious. She would become my helper, ferrying her younger sisters for me when scheduling conflicts arose. But, my oldest was always like that—the one I depended on, the most responsible. She thrived on that image of herself and I was glad.

But, my second daughter, like her two younger sisters, was and I guess still is (at least in my mind) “one of the little ones” even though she, her older sister and I can wear each other’s clothes and shoes. This rite of passage, getting a driver’s license, is quite literally a right of passage— their right to leave the nest that I have created for them. They are on the road to leaving me. And even though this is, of course, what I want for them, it made me sad.

When these first two were little, about six and three, we had a swingset in the back yard. It was the kind with ladders on either side and bars across the top. A child could climb the ladder then hand over hand to from bar to bar until she reached the other side, about eight feet away. My six-year-old had no problem doing this; if she couldn’t make it all the way across, she simply dropped to the ground, a distance of only about three feet. But, I didn’t want my three year old to do this maneuver because, smaller and less experienced than her older sister, if she fell, the drop was far enough that she could get hurt.

One afternoon, I left them playing on the swings and went inside for something. I glanced out the kitchen window to see my three year old climbing the ladder, preparing to imitate her big sister who was happily swinging across the top of the swingset. For some reason, I did not rush outside to stand beneath my little girl as she attempted this feat. Something made me stand where I was, perfectly still, and watch.

With her big sister calling encouragement, my daughter began her trek. First one hand grasped the bar, then the other hand grabbed the next one and so forth. I could hear my older daughter telling her, “You can do it! Don’t look down. Just look straight ahead! You can do it! Good girl!”

And she did it.

I ran outside, cheering and clapping, letting them both know how proud I was of each of them—the teacher and the student. The look on their faces made me glad I had stayed in the kitchen.

My daughter’s achievement that day was a separation— but only a small one. I could champion them wholeheartedly then because what happened was only a childhood milestone. They could go through many such experiences and even though they learned something new each time, acquired some new degree of independence, they would still emerge on the other side of that experience as children. They would still be within my purview.

But that driver’s license could take them someplace else, someplace without me. I suppose that place is adulthood.

I hadn’t been sad when my oldest daughter reached that stage and I understood why. She had always exhibited the tendency to be grown-up, mature, yet she still needed me. Our bond was always clear, secure, strong even with the element of her character.

But, with number two, her new-found independence pushed her out of the grouping of “the little ones” that she had shared with her two younger sisters and into the smaller circle that included her older sister and me.

She’s a harbinger, this child of mine, of what will surely be in the coming years. And I know that even though she’s reached this stage, she’s still a work in progress. She still needs me, her father, and her big sister to encourage her, love her and champion her. So will the younger ones when their turns come.

I have my apprehensions. But they are more for myself than for her. As I climb into the passenger seat, I glance over at my sixteen year old. And there she is, my daughter, looking straight ahead, focused as she should be, on the road in front of her.

Marsha Arons

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