Jeanne Sathre/Voices: Look who is not in the driver's seat

Jeanne Sathre/Voices: Look who is not in the driver's seat

By JEANNE SATHRE

I spent a weekend last year with my older daughter, her husband and my two grandsons in the Mexican mountain town of Tapalpa. It was a good trip, with a quaint hotel, no chain restaurants or stores, the best hot chocolate I've ever had, and scenery completely different from the cityscape of Guadalajara, where we were living at the time.

But coming home, squeezed between two pre-schoolers in bulky car seats and wearing a seat belt that wouldn't let me move forward more than two inches, I found myself wondering how I had ended up there.

Not there as in Tapalpa or Mexico, but there in the back seat, relegated to what felt like sitting at the children's table.

When had I turned the driving over to my daughter? And how had that happened without me realizing it?

I taught both of my daughters how to drive. We kicked up gravel in the empty high school parking lot, threatened the bark of trees on the curved and hilly roads of the local state park, and finally picked up speed on the Lincoln Trail highway, which is basically a country road with no marked lanes and very little traffic.

My younger daughter still laughs about me telling her that there's never a good reason to pass someone on a two-lane road. I'm pretty sure I made an exception for tractors, but she disputes even that.

They eventually mastered both automatics and stick shifts, aced their driver's ed courses at school, and walked out of the motor vehicle bureau with licenses on their 16th birthdays.

Those licenses gave them a new freedom, but seldom changed who was behind the wheel when the two or three of us were in the car together. When we took off on shopping trips looking for prom dresses or road trips to far off colleges, I was almost always the one driving.

But not on this trip. And not on any other recent trips either, I realized. I was no longer the one who picked up the keys and automatically climbed into the driver's seat.

It's not that I was totally unhappy sitting in the back seat on those mountainous cliffs with switchback curves. Indeed, it was almost a relief to be able to close my eyes on the stretches where the guardrails disappeared and "in memoriam" markers rose up. It was more like that club you don't really want to be in. You still want to be asked.

And no one asked me if I wanted take my turn at driving.

As parents, we all go through this. The first time our offspring beats us at golf or tennis. The year they buy us more expensive Christmas presents than we buy them. The Thanksgiving dinner that's at their house and we aren't even asked to bring anything. The day we realize we haven't proofread anything for them lately. Times when we realize that something has shifted in the relationship.

Something we're not completely comfortable with and not always ready for.

It's a little like what I might have felt if I had been the one driving those mountainous roads to Tapalpa. A little queasy about the changing terrain and the switchback curves that come too quickly.

Jeanne Sathre is a retired attorney and owner of a used-book store who recently returned to Champaign after spending two years in Mexico.

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