Photo Courtesy: Natalie Stechyson
I’ve come to realize that the first year of motherhood is a delicate balance of fear and trust: that the baby will wake up every morning, that he’ll swallow his food without choking, that he’ll still be there when I pick him up at daycare. I’ve struggled with anxiety issues most of my life, and motherhood has meant pushing my comfort zone beyond what I ever thought possible—not only so that I can function but also so that my son won’t grow up to be a 25-year-old who still needs his mother to cut his food into tiny pieces and remind him to “chew and swallow!”
I’ve made leaps and bounds this year, knocking items off my list. Breastfeed in public: check! Sit in the front seat of the car instead of beside the baby and hug the bucket seat as extra protection in case we crash: check! Let my mom babysit without calling her every 20 minutes to make sure that the baby gates are still shut and the electrical sockets are still covered: check! But my biggest and most debilitating challenge loomed over me like a shadow. Finally, with just a week left of my maternity leave, I faced it head on.
I leaned over the car seat and kissed my one-year-old son, inhaled slowly to emblazon the smell of his curly hair permanently into my memory (nap sweat and a faint note of no-tears shampoo, with a mellow peanut butter and wet cracker finish), whispered “Never forget that Mama loves you” in his ear, shut the car door and then, trembling, took the car keys from my mother-in-law’s outstretched hand.
“Do you want to drive to daycare?” she asked me for the second time that morning.
“No,” I said, glancing through the back window at my son gleefully whipping his stuffed puppy at the armrest, “but I will.”
All new parents are tormented by fears that boil down to the same essential worry: How can I keep my child safe? Thoughts of the worst-case scenarios, the what-ifs, can consume you—and mine nearly did. But my greatest new-mom fears also happened to include the thought of driving my son to a doctor’s appointment, confusing the brake with the gas, crashing through a fast food joint and having my child grow up with the small comfort that at least Mama died surrounded by what she loved: fries.
I don’t drive—I never have. I had to be dragged to my written test as a teenager. I took a few in-car lessons but was too afraid to practise without a co-driver who had his own brake. My instructor and I happily parted ways when he said I wasn’t ready to drive on the highway, even with him.
I took another round of in-car lessons five years later, when my G1 was about to expire. My instructor and I got as far as talking about booking a road test before I ghosted him. Seven years after that, when I was refused drinks at a hockey game because of my expired ID, I took the written test again. When a new job took me out of province and required a full licence, I took driving lessons again, this time in New Brunswick, where I gleefully discovered that you can pass a test without driving over 50 kilometres an hour or knowing how to turn off your emergency brake. I let HR file my licence number and took cabs for the rest of my contract there, and I haven’t driven since.
Five years later, my licence was once again set to expire, except this time there was more at stake than a job or a drink at a hockey game: I had a child. With just a few weeks left before starting back to work and for the fourth time in my life, I took driving lessons.
When my instructor, Jonas, first suggested that I try driving faster than 20 kilometres an hour (“But there are children in this neighbourhood, Jonas!”), I had to pull over so he could lead me in a guided meditative breathing session. Now, with eight lessons under my belt, he is the one taking deep breaths as he points out that I’m speeding. When he pushes me past my comfort zone, telling me that we’re going to change lanes in traffic or turn left at a busy intersection, I don’t thank Jonas for his service and exit the vehicle; I grip the wheel and trust that I can do it.
Maybe it’s because I’ve already survived every other terrifying yet necessary challenge this past year—childbirth, sleep training, solid foods, daycare transition, my son’s habit of eating rocks—and I feel braver than I ever have. Last week, after successfully surviving merging onto the highway (“Don’t let me die, Jonas! I have a baby!), we booked my road test. I might even show up for it.
More importantly, this week, despite wanting to vomit for the entire five-minute commute, I drove my son to daycare. When we arrived (everyone still alive, the vehicle unscathed and no police cars chasing me for breaking laws I didn’t even know existed), I parallel-parked, with swagger, too much space and wheels that I forgot to straighten. But I did it—like a mother.