My daughter's ice-blue eyes focus straight into my brown ones. Since she was a small girl, she has measured her height - her achievement of growth - against my adult stature of a mere 5 foot 3. She likes to stand toe-to-toe with me to see how she compares. First, she came to my waist. Then my chest. Soon she met my shoulders, then my chin - and now my middle-age gaze.
When she was 4, her preschool class calculated their height, the stretch of their torsos, the length of their legs and the reach of their arms. My daughter told me at the time she was the tallest in the class, with the longest legs and arms. I knew otherwise but didn't correct her.
Even as I am slouching into my late 40s, I am not so dissimilar: I consider myself 5 foot 9. When my daughter was 13, people often thought she was 17. She loved that and stood a little straighter.
Now she has hit her full height, she is 16, and she has her driver's license. An entirely new world has opened up, and she no longer needs to measure up to my view or measure herself against me. But then again, there is that niggling little issue of doling out the car keys.
My daughter and I have entered into a new dance of pushes and pulls, of what she can and can't do. The desires are no longer ice cream for breakfast or one more story before bed. She wants to take the car, and she wants to drive her friends places. She has had her license for less than a month.
Her friends are just as eager. Recently she asked to drive with a boy in her class (whom I don't know and who hasn't been driving very long) from Bethesda to the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland. That meant driving on the Washington Beltway at rush hour to see their high school basketball team compete in the state finals. (The plan, I later learned, was to pile seven kids into his car.)
I found myself saying things my mother used to say to me: "What part of 'no' don't you understand? The 'n' or the 'o'?" And when I was really exasperated after saying no 100 times, I said this, just as my mother did: "Wait until you have your own children. Then you will see how difficult this is."
Finally, I recited the letter of Maryland law, which has become my new bible for living - and I am not one who normally likes government meddling with my personal life. I read this to her: "Effective October 1, 2005, provisional drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted to carry passengers under the age of 18, except for family members, for the first five (5) months of licensure."
Seems pretty clear. But she retorts: "No one pays attention to that. Other parents let their kids drive their friends right after they get the license. Besides, it is safer on the highway. Most accidents happen within a one-mile radius of your house. And who would stop us anyways?"
More than a dozen teens have died on Maryland roads since this fall. I read about each one with tears in my eyes. I am not sure how many of the accidents involved alcohol or drugs, or how many were caused because the young driver was distracted by passengers in the car. For the state finals, I stuck by my "no" and drove her to the game myself.
Remember that Iowa mom who recently sold her son's car when she found booze on the floor of his car, then went on the talk shows to tell her story and had her 15 minutes of fame as the meanest mom in America? Well, she and I share the same last name. Before she arrived on the Good Morning America show, a neighbor of mine, a reputable Georgetown historian, pegged me as the meanest mom in my neighborhood; now he calls me the meanest mom east of the Mississippi.
I gladly take that honor.
Laura Hambleton is a free-lance writer living in Chevy Chase. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.