I was living in New York City and visibly pregnant, when I got into a Lyft after dinner with friends. The driver congratulated me. I thanked him, and asked if he had any children. “I do!” he replied, “I have a daughter who is 14.”
“Wow, how is that?” It was a loaded question.
“She’s a handful alright. But you know, so was I! Sometimes I want to throw her in her room and lock her in, but I have to remind myself what I was like at her age. And let me tell you, it was way worse!”
He told me that back when he was 14, the streets of New York were very different. Back then, they used to call 42nd Street “Forty-Deuce,” and he would go buy weed there. It wasn’t teeming with tourist families when he was a kid. No one went there to walk around and take pictures on vacation. When he was a kid, he passed by pimps, prostitutes and people toting guns without batting an eye. He even went to some underground clubs there. “I’m lucky to be alive,” he explained. “But I loved that feeling. I felt so… so cool…” We both laughed.
I was sitting in the back seat ruminating over his story, when he suggested that if things were getting tough with my future teenage child, maybe I could try to recall a time or stupid mistake I made that would help me understand, and not be so hard on them. Was there ever a time I was rebellious? Could I remember how that felt?
If I could go back, and feel something again, something I could never recreate now that I’m older and certain feelings have all but expired, it would be the feeling of standing outside my mom’s house all by myself, after sneaking out at 2 AM.
Thinking about it, eyes closed, trying to go back… I could almost feel my heart racing, the wind in my hair. Even though it was Florida, and the nights were as warm as the days in the summer, I was covered in goosebumps. I could see myself, hidden in the shadows of the big tree by the quiet street, waiting for headlights to flash in the distance - a signal from an older friend with a car that it was time for me to run down the block and jump in.
It felt like... first day of school jitters, but better. It felt like… the first time your crush spoke to you, but better. These butterflies in our stomachs were escape artists. They were wild. They were running from the laws of very strict households. Out in the world on their own, cruising the streets while their parents slept soundly, looking for an adult who would buy them vodka from the 24-hour liquor store drive-through, and avoiding red and blue lights. Going to the beach and tasting said vodka for the very first time, and wanting to throw up immediately.
We got drunk. We fell in the sand. Sometimes a boy would come who I wanted to kiss, so we kissed. Sandy, drunk kisses in between laughs and under shooting stars. And all the while, no one’s parents knew we were even out of bed.
After recounting these feelings to my Lyft driver, he caught my eyes in the review mirror. They were mischievous, having also gone back to a similar place. “Man,” he said, “You just brought me wayyy back! I bet that’s something all kids can relate to... I bet there’s a kid in India right now, sneaking out of his mom’s window going to try things for the very first time. Remember that when your baby gets to that age!”
“I hope I do...” I said, “My mom was so overbearing, and all it ever did was push me away. Made me run away more. I never want to push my child like that. But now, looking back, I know she was just scared. My father passed away when I was little–“
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the driver interjected.
“It’s ok,” my usual response, “I know he’s with me all the time, in all kinds of ways.”
“Did you ever get caught sneaking out?” The driver asked.
“Pshh,” I shook my head. “Did I ever! And my mom thinks it was my dad who told on me. She said she would wake up, startled in the night and it was so quiet she could hear her heart beating. One time a picture fell off a wall in the house. She would go to my room to check on me, and sure enough, I would be gone.”
“Oh boy…” The Lyft driver had a strict mother too. “And then what happened?”
“Well my mom is Latin, so you know I was attacked with a frying pan while trying to sneak back in.”
We had another good laugh at this before the driver pulled up to lobby of my building. My fiancé and I had just moved to Roosevelt Island from my apartment in the city, after finding out we were expecting. It was a safe building in a good neighborhood overlooking the East River. There was a playground to the left and cherry blossoms lined the water front. I saw the late-night front desk personnel mopping the floors, as usual. He just knew me as the pregnant young woman with the two small dogs and the nice fiancé. My wild days were hidden in a suitcase I left back in the city, when I had my last drink, the weekend before I found out I was becoming a mom.
I thanked the Lyft driver for the ride, but also we thanked each other for a little more. That car ride took us back to more than just my apartment. It took us back to a feeling we could never truly recreate, to a place my own child has yet to experience. I knew one day my baby would be a teenager and that sometimes we would be fighting about boundaries and what it means to grow up and make your own mistakes. My baby will make me feel ancient and tell me there’s no way I could understand how that felt. But I looked up at the sky before heading inside, and I saw the same stars I had my first kisses under, the same stars that watched over me when I could barely watch over myself. “For her,” I told the stars, “but also for me, I promise to remember.”