The morning walk. Cold this time of year, but cold or not, important.
Important because it starts the day, turns the page, and is an opportunity to notice changes in the old, familiar neighborhood. What hasn't changed are the trees, still shorn of leaves as they wait for warmer weather to bud.
It's nice to see what the neighbors are working on.What they want to talk about should they want to talk, lucky for me if they do.
In front of a Craftsman house occupied by a mom and her red-haired daughter, I saw a sturdy white used Hummer that I hadn't seen before. They walked out the front door, high school starting in minutes, and got into the mom's gray Jeep.
As she backed out of the driveway, I waved, they waved and after she had put the car in drive and began to move forward, the passenger-side window rolled down.
"We have another driver in the house," said the mom who leaned over her daughter to get closer to the window.
I looked at the unfamiliar white car in front and at the daughter who was smiling in the sort of half-embarrassed, half-affectionate way that teenage daughters sometimes do when they are in the presence of their mothers and not in control of the conversational agenda.
I nodded and said to the girl, "Nice car. You're lucky."
I skipped the jokes about having to watch out for another teenage driver on the road. No need to make a red-haired girl blush when she was close to blushing naturally anyway.
"She has her permit but in a week or so, she'll have her license."
Her daughter smiled again. This time with pride, with a look that said, "I can't wait."
My first thought was: impossible. The red-haired girl who I have watched grow up, if only on my morning walks, was now days away from getting her license and already had her permit?
Things were changing. Things had changed. Sometimes things change and you don't realize they have changed.
I wondered if her mother knew how much, because when it was our turn, when our kids got their licenses, we had no idea.
A new license may signal the end of the daily conversations with her daughter. The conversations, the companionable silences and sometimes just the silence. A teenage girl doesn't always have a lot of things to talk to her mom about, or she may, but chooses not to, even though her mom might be the one person in the world best equipped to understand.
The bright side was her mom was off the hook. No driving her to school, ballet, soccer or the store. She could catch her breath, get her life back and maybe salvage a few more minutes of sleep.
However, how much rest does anyone get when there is a teenage driver in the house, who is not in the house but is doing what teenage drivers do, which is driving?
Every siren, every phone call, every knock on the door. It's like war time and waiting for the news. To say nothing of the conversations: "You said you were going to be home at 9, and it's 10:30."
Thankfully, most of us survive. That stage, like many other ones, seems to have passed in a blur. Teenage drivers are now drivers in their 30s. That's how you know time is passing. It's not that your kids have grown up, received their licenses and have left home, but that the next generation and the next next one has done the same.
The child down the street is no longer a child and now has a license and a car.
Soon she will be driving to school, hopefully with a measure of fear. However, the fear will probably pass and be replaced by exhilaration and freedom.
She will be off to school but one day she'll be on her way. She'll wave to her mother in her rearview mirror. When she returns, she will have stories to tell. Her mom will be waiting on 20th Street and I'm betting she'll be the first person to hear them.