When Elijah was 3, I took a job at a private day care nearby in an effort to gain some experience in the early childhood field and earn some money for college. The added perk was that this particular center offered free tuition to its employees, so Elijah was able to attend preschool a few rooms down from the class I was assisting in. It seemed like an ideal situation. My first day of work, I got us both up bright and early and dressed Elijah in a brand new red & cream outfit complete with matching kicks, scarves, and gloves. I wanted to make a good first impression. After getting myself presentable, we hit the road. I was nervous, as one would expect me to be, but my toddler’s carefree chattering lightened my mood a bit. I remember that his favorite CD was playing, a little album I had picked up during one of our trips to the Sacramento Railroad Museum. Elijah was in one of his fixation phases and loved anything remotely related to trains, including music. This CD contained a nice score of railroad themed songs, however there was this one track that had nothing to do with trains from what I could tell, but ironically, it was his favorite on the disc. It was a folksy little acoustic tune about growing up.
That morning, as we rolled along the freeway, I recall tearing up as I watched my son in the rearview mirror, kicking his legs in time to the music, singing, “Hey little boy, you’re acting kind of old, you’re just a little child today…hurry not, don’t rush your days, the time will pass away….slow down, little boy slow down, little boy I said slow down. Before the twinkle of an eye, your time will come around…” His little voice was so sweet then—I wish you could have heard it. Small, yet deliberate, he could carry a tune like no other toddler I knew and he’d belt out songs as if he were singing to the heavens themselves. By the time we made it to the new school, I was feeling more at ease. But that was only temporary. The first day was rougher than I’d expected. The classroom I was working in was small and stuffy and filled with restless, rowdy two-year-olds. To top it off, the teacher I was working under seemed more interested in sharing the details of her personal life than focusing on the management of the little toddlers in our care. By the time I got to Elijah’s classroom to pick him up, I was feeling ambivalent about the center as a whole. That’s when I saw my son. He was off in a corner, eyes downcast, lip trembling. I glanced at the floor to see what he was staring at, and saw that he was standing in a puddle. He’d had an accident, but in the chaos of the room, no one had noticed. I swept him up, and quickly got him in a fresh set of clothes. He had been potty trained for months and had not once had an accident, until then. As we drove home that day, I knew I would not be returning to that job. Experience and money aside, my little boy was not going to be little for very long and I was not going to have him attend a preschool where he was not being attended to.
I wish I could tell you how fast time passes. It seems everyone tells you so from the day your baby is born; “Cherish these moments, they go so fast… They grow up so quickly.” We politely nod our heads in agreement while admiring the tiny features of our newborns and secretly tell ourselves things will always remain as they are. Those little eyes forever looking to us for guidance, the fingers clutching ours for comfort. And then they are 1, and take their first steps without your help. Then they are 3, and run into a wide open space without once looking back to see if you are there… then 5, and the door to the kindergarten room closes behind them as you stand on the outside wondering how it all happened so quickly. Then 10, and their social life begins to circulate less around you, and more around their peers. Then 16, and you receive an official letter in the mailbox one day with the license that allows them to roam further away from you than was ever before possible.
Elijah earned his right to drive recently. He diligently studied his driver’s education book, persuaded various family members (including myself) to take him out for impromptu driving lessons, scheduled all the necessary appointments with drivers’ training and the DMV, and in the end, was rewarded with his drivers licence nearly a month and a half after his 16th birthday. This has allowed him to drive himself to and from his many baseball games during the week when no one is available to take him. It permits him the freedom to visit friends in nearby neighborhoods on the weekends… neighborhoods he previously could not venture into because they were too far to get to on skateboard or bike. It affords him the feeling of freedom, yet at the same time saddles him with a great deal of responsibility. And it has prompted me to, once again, loosen up my psychological reigns a bit as we inch our way toward his 18th year…
I tell him, the rules of the road are much like the rules in life: be courteous and cautious but confident in your abilities to manage difficult situations as you encounter them. Trust your instincts. Always refer to your rearview but don’t fixate on it. Don’t be ashamed to ask for directions. Even in the age of MapQuest, you may still need to seek out the direction of someone who knows the area better than you. And above all, never forget the way home. There is nothing like the comfort of your loved ones when you grow weary of traveling or need a place to refuel.