31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Milestones Can Be Calibrated In Inches

Single with Children: Milestones can be measured by etching a line on wall

Publication Date: 04/10/02

The other day I was reading and glanced over at the edge of my door to discover something I'd never noticed in the 18 months I've lived in this house. At first, it simply looked like lines drawn at various places on the edge of the door. Curiosity got the best of me and I walked over to take a closer look.

What I discovered, upon careful inspection, was that a family who had lived in this house before us had carefully, periodically measured the heights of what would appear to be their three children. Each measurement included the child's name and the date they must have stood there, no doubt giddily hoping to see some progress in their heights.

I couldn't help but smile at the image and the memory of doing the same thing when my kids were younger and so eager to grow tall. It was a little hard keeping track on any one door frame, because we moved around a lot, something like every couple of years and to several different cities in several different states. I remember taking them for physicals every year and the nurse would always give me a note with both of my kids' heights and weights, and I would dutifully come home and stash it into their baby books, always intending to eventually record those vital statistics in ink. At least I still have the notes.

There are so many milestones our children reach from birth to adulthood, and not all of them can be measured with a ruler and a pencil. One major milestone that is on my mind a lot these days comes in the form of a laminated card given not by a healthcare professional but by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Justin was beaming after passing the computer driving test. I remember feeling as if I needed a healthcare professional or, at the very least, something to control the palpitations in my chest and those sweaty palms of mine.

I initially thought I had it in the bag. My son has never been the kind of young man to sit down with a book, and he seemed to have no real desire to memorize too many facts. Wouldn't you just know he'd suddenly reveal a talent for both that materialized in the acquisition of this permit that says he can now operate a car as long as a licensed driver is beside him? Who knew he had such an ability for memorizing rules and regulations, not to mention laws and street signs?

Please don't misunderstand; it's not that I wanted him to fail, I just wasn't certain I would survive if he passed. Perhaps this is a milestone shared by both parent and child.

Of course, when our kids are younger and safely past the stage where they are tempted to stick all manner of objects in electrical outlets and love nothing more than to run out the front door toward the street, we forget that in a few short years, those electrical socket fears will look like a walk in the park. We know that someday learning to drive a car will become a new challenge to conquer, but it's sort of like scheduling a trip to the dentist for that much-dreaded, but necessary, root canal. For a while, if the dentist is particularly overbooked, it seems in the distant future and "eventually" feels like a really long time away. However, time doesn't wait around until we feel prepared or ready to face a new challenge. Those calendar days keep flying right off the wall, even when we don't seem to notice them, and last month, the calendar declared that my son was ready to take the test for a permit that will allow him to get behind the wheel of a very powerful machine. I can feel the gray hairs materializing as I type!

To be fair, I won't deny that I'm proud of my son for passing this initial test. I can't help but bask in the delight of his palpable sense of accomplishment. I also must tell you that I have a renewed and sincere respect for all adults who work in a driving school and muster the courage, patience and fortitude to teach beginning drivers the rudimentary lessons of operating a motor vehicle. Surely they must be made of all manner of stern stuff!

In the past few days, Justin and I have been out on the highway, and I'm impressed as he buckles up, adjusts his mirrors and makes certain everything is in order before turning on the ignition. He seems to realize that driving a car is a very serious issue and I'm proud of how he's handled himself on our initial forays onto busy streets. He's done nothing so far that has elicited so much as a scream from me. We both seem to realize that this is a huge turning point in our lives, and his progress is amazing. I'm reminded that growth is measured not only in terms of height and weight but also in the number of miles one drives.

I must tell you that every now and then when I glance over and see this son of mine behind the wheel, I have a catch in my throat.

Not because I don't think he's capable of the task at hand, but because I am taken aback at the warp speed with which "eventually" finally arrives.

The other night, after kissing him goodnight, I paused and stared at the door with the lines marking the heights of children that must surely be adults by now. I briefly considered staining over those lines but decided against it. For some reason, I like seeing them, even though I will probably never meet those kids. I'd like to imagine that perhaps they not only grew taller in this home, but experienced many of the same things I'm living with my own two teen-agers. Those marks on the door remind me that even though each child's life is so wonderfully different and unique, our experiences are universal.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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