I had great plans for something else to write about for today, but then I spent one hour and 45 minutes at the DMV yesterday, waiting to get my license renewed.
Scott came with me because he needed to get his own license renewed. His birthday is on Friday, so he's was being very timely with his renewal. My own license expired six months ago. You know how putting off something just makes it worse? Well, it's true. When I found out my license was expired, it was only just a little expired. But then I kept putting of the trip to the DMV because, well, who wants to go to the DMV, anyway? Who has time for that? Then the weeks turned into months and my DMV phobia kicked in--big time.
I've had bad experiences with the place. When I was eighteen I failed the written portion of the driving test THREE times. I knew the stuff, I really did, but I caved under the pressure. The DMV people were mean to me; I felt like a fool. I remember trudging out of there the three different times, trailing after my dad, thinking for sure I'd never get a license, I was hopeless, I was doomed to a life of being driven around by others. Finally passing the test was a huge triumph for me, and I was so proud of that first license, and my eighteen-year old face smiling back at me, triumphant and ready to take the world by storm.
When we moved to North Carolina in 2001 I knew I needed to trade in my New York license for a North Carolina one but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I was attached to the me in my license picture, to the words "New York" in big letters at the top of the plastic card. I wanted to be New York Me, not North Carolina Me. So I waited two whole years to do it. When I did finally go in to get the paperwork done I was three months pregnant with T., and I discovered I needed to take the written test again.
My stomach dropped. I pushed L. out of there in his stroller as fast as I could go, worried the DMV people would come running after me.
"I can't do it," I told Scott. "I can't take that test."
We got the book and I studied, in-between L.'s naps, and trips to the playground, and teaching my adjunct classes. On the day I went in to take the test I waited in the stuffy little corner of the room, in a hard plastic chair, and L. and I read books and did a puzzle and colored. I rested my hands on my small pregnancy lump and tried to draw strength from my kids.
"I'll pass this test. I'll pass this test." I told myself, over and over again.
I didn't, though. The nerves hit and I second-guessed my answers and punched the wrong buttons on the computer. The man who took the results looked at me sternly from over his bifocals. He was large and imposing, with a military-style haircut.
"You failed the test." He told me, in loud, clipped tones, grabbing the printout from my hands.
I fled with L., and felt eighteen again, foolish and disappointed, trailing after my dad, the word "failed" stamped on my forehead for all to see. But it was one thing to fail three times as a teenager, and quite another to do it as a 34-year old woman.
It was months before I screwed up my courage to try again, but I finally passed the test. I was so relieved, I cried. My driver's license photo from that day shows North Carolina Me, with another triumphant--albeit strained--smile, and I'm wearing my favorite black stretchy maternity shirt. L. is there, off-camera, somewhere next to me in his stroller, and T. is a tiny curled up being inside of me.
Yesterday I sat with Scott in that same waiting area for an hour and forty-five minutes. We talked and watched the numbers flash across the red digital display on the wall. I thought about the last time I'd sat there, a youngish mom, with another child on the way, all nerves about trading in the New York Me, the safe and familiar, for something new and different. And now I was doing it all over again, trading in that other me, the me in the black maternity shirt and the triumphant-relieved smile, for this forty-year old me. My kids--even the one who last time was just a curled up being inside of me--are in school, and I'm worried about making it back to my 1:00 class in time.
"What if something happens?" I whisper to Scott, right before my number is called. It's ridiculous to be this nervous about a license renewal, but I am. I get even more nervous when I head over to station #6, and my knees weaken when I see--I kid you not--the same stern, military-haircut man, waiting for me, his arms crossed over the top of the desk. It's like a bad dream, and all my previous DMV experiences rush past me like terrible flashbacks.
But maybe the years have mellowed him, or maybe I caught him on a good day. He doesn't say anything about how my license expired in August, or ask me, as I feared, how I had gotten around all these months given my license wasn't valid. Even when I flub the street signs on the vision test he's non-judgmental, and hands me the paper card to sign. It was all so anticlimactic, so easy, really. I realize then that my DMV phobia was more about letting go, then it was about fear of failure. It was more about fearing the relentless march of time, the fixation I had on that notion I was there to trade myself in, like some old model looking for an improbable upgrade, even if it didn't feel like one. As it turned out, Forty-Year Old Me is just the me I've been along; the me who keeps on smiling back at me from that square photo on the plastic card: a little older and softer around the edges, maybe, but still triumphant.