Last week my sixteen-year-old, daughter Lucia and I went on a road trip, just the two of us. Lucia's best friend thought this would be a disaster. She imagined the two of us in a car for hours on end would be a catastrophic power struggle. But it wasn't. It was one of the best trips we've ever had.
We drove over 1700 miles across three states and back. We drove through farmland, over mountains, past lakes, and rivers, through small towns and cities. With just the two of us confined to one small car hour after hour, we breathed in the simplicity like two lazy monk seals napping on the dock. There was nothing to do but drive and talk.
There was a magical energy that permeated our little fiberglass bubble. Lucia asked question after question about life in general, about theoretical situations, about my experiences as a young person. I lapped up the experience of being with my daughter without the distraction of cell phones, school, or other people. I was aware as we drove and talked and laughed and were sometimes quiet that these were rare and special moments. Every once in a while I'd close my eyes and try to capture the feeling like a snapshot in my body.
When we got home Lucia went back to her true calling. Once the road trip was over it was time for her to get back to work being a sixteen-year-old. I tried not to take it personally that she couldn't get out of the house to drive herself anywhere without me. I understand on an intellectual level that Lucia's job right now is to create a world outside of her parents.
In the days after we got home Lucia was rarely home. She'd sleep late and then pop into the car to drive to the drug store or Goodwill. After a brief stop home to drop the car she was off on her bike to go meet friends at the lake. Home for dinner and then down to her room to do her own thing.
This need for privacy and autonomy felt like a stark contrast to the experience Lucia and I had on our road trip. As Lucia came in and out I imagined her like a spider weaving a web. Spinning her silk, she'd go out into the world alone, exploring and finding new places to land for a bit before coming back home. She was weaving a web or her own, a place where parents don't belong.
Lucia is doing what all teenagers do. She is creating little road trips of her own, and coming back home to check-in. Like a spider, she is tiptoeing back and forth from adventure to safety, all the while logging her experiences to use as wisdom on her path towards adulthood. I, on the other hand, am deep into adulthood. I'm like a big heavy beetle who would destroy her web if I tried to traverse it.
I thought I'd be sad when our magical road trip ended, but I'm not. I understand that there is a time and place for everything. When we first got home my inclination was to plan another trip like we had, to try and recapture it before too much time went by. But as I watch Lucia spinning her web, leaving the big old beetle at home, I remember what it was like to be that age.
I remember the compulsion for independence and privacy. I remember the feeling of freedom I had from being in charge of something, anything. Every time Lucia dashes off with a mumble of where she's going and when she'll be home I imagine her spinning a new line of silk for her web. Like any mother, I worry. As she's getting older, she taking on bigger and bigger adventures, growing her web further away from home.
By the end of our road trip, Lucia felt confident and secure driving on mountains, superhighways, and country roads. She asked if I would be okay with her driving to Portland by herself this summer. "We'll see," I said, playing it cool while freaking out inside at the thought of her on the road alone.
But now that we're home I know I'll say yes to my little spider. Her web is expanding and she needs space to grow.