Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting Melissa into the Car

It has become an annual tradition for my small family to pile into the car each year on Father's Day weekend for the three hour drive to Washington, D.C. to visit my step-daughter Jessica and her husband Brian.

It is also an annual tradition for my small family to pay homage to the numerous rest stops along the way, and this trip proved no different. After tending to "our business", we walked slowly back to the car, only to find the passenger side door blocked by the occupants of the mini van in the parking space next to our's.

My 16-year old daughter Melissa and I watched patiently as the mom climbed into the back of the mini van, buckled two toddlers into their respective car seats, then made sure they had snacks, drinks, and toys to last throughout their journey.  Finally, the harried yet apologetic mom took her rightful place in the driver's seat and went on her merry way.

As we returned to our rightful places in the car and went on our merry way, my thoughts turned to the scene we had just witnessed, and to the 10,735,254 times I had performed the same car seat routine with my daughter.

"In many ways, it's so much easier now than when Melissa was a baby," I said, sharing my melancholy thoughts with my husband Bob.  "But in many other ways it's even harder now that she's older."

"What do you mean?" asked Melissa, a hint of hurt feelings in her casual tone.

I thought long and hard before answering, wanting to choose my words wisely, lest I let her think that being her mommy has been difficult.

I thought about then.

I thought about now.

I thought about that eventful day in July, 1997, when we brought Melissa home for the very first time.  Bob gently lifted our bundle of joy from my protective arms and placed her into the car seat, which we had haphazardly attempted to correctly install.

"How do you hook up this $%@# thing?" asked Bob in exasperation.

"Let me try," I said, climbing into the back with him.

After several minutes we were no closer to safely securing our child, and absolutely convinced that that state would bestow the title of "unfit parents" upon us even before we got our infant home.

Thankfully, some wonderfully kind hospital employees came to the rescue, and with our newborn in tow, we headed onto the highway of life as Melissa's mommy and daddy.

The following summer, more exasperation greeted my husband as he tried to install a bigger contraption to tote our ever-changing cherub.

As we witnessed the evolution from toddler to preschooler, her non-stop growth resulted in yet another sophisticated car seat that required a master's in engineering to set up.

Then came the elementary school years, and with it an oh so easy to use booster seat.  Finally, my "baby" had reached the milestone of sitting in the back seat with no supporting apparatus at all, except of course the seat belt.  And before long my preteen sat in the front with me, rejoicing in her new-found freedom to control the radio!

In the not so distant future, my daughter, the proud recipient of an official, state-issued learner's permit, will make the transition from  passenger seat to her rightful place behind the wheel, and go on her merry way.

Away from me.

Away from my loving arms.

With that thought I realized why being a mommy to Melissa is so much harder today.

For today, tomorrow, and the years to come, I will no longer be able to shield her from harm by the simple act of strapping her in.

I looked at my beautiful, self-sufficient teen who'll turn 17 in two week's time.  My daughter is blessed with an inner beauty that radiates through her dazzling smile.  She has a strong moral compass and is a natural born leader. What's more, her compassionate heart coupled with an innate thirst for perfection leaves me bursting with pride.

But will that be enough for her to battle the unknown obstacles that will most surely create unexpected road blocks on her journey called life? Will it be enough to keep her happy, to keep her smiling, to keep her safe?

I just don't know.

But what I do know is, no matter where life takes her, no matter how far away, I will always be here to strap her back in.

My "baby" has grown from needing a car seat, to taking her rightful place in the driver's seat!

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