My son’s interest in toy cars has gradually been replaced by an interest in a car of his own and he eagerly awaited the day he could finally get his driver’s permit.
When he was a toddler, he was obsessed with trains and cars. Practically every picture I have of him during those years includes him holding a vehicle in his hands. He loved to drive his trains and cars on the arms of his car seat and many a dinner in a restaurant was saved by whipping out a Matchbox car for him to play with on the table.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree because my husband still has every Matchbox car he ever owned. In fact, my husband practically squealed with glee on the day he realized that our son was finally old enough to play with his collection of race cars.
When the date was approaching, my husband cleared his work day and proudly took our son to the DMV for his written driver’s permit test.
When his number was called, my son was assigned to a gruff older man. His colleagues call him Santa Claus because of his snowy white beard, but he didn’t act like a jolly old elf. In fact, he put my son through the paces when it came to completing his application. He also put my husband in his place when he tried to answer some of the details my son didn’t know. “Dad, this is all part of letting them go. Let your son do the talking, okay?” he said, but not unkindly.
When my son told Santa Claus that he couldn’t wait to hit the road, the man gave a stern nod and told him, “Well, you’d better not fail the test, boy,” and directed my son to the row of computers for the exam.
After my son finished his test, he was called to the counter with my husband. With a serious expression, Santa Claus pushed a new Matchbox car across the counter and said, “Congrats, son. You did good.” When my husband looked at him in surprise, Santa shrugged and smiled. “It wasn’t so long ago that my own sons played with Matchbox cars,” he said.
I was teary-eyed when my husband later told me the story because I was grateful that a DMV employee recognized how meaningful that moment is for a teenager—and his father.
My son has grown by leaps and bounds and his young adult milestones are just as important as the ones he hit as a toddler.
And, truth be told, while there are times when I would like nothing better than to see that little kid sitting on the floor and vrooming his cars around imaginary roads he’s built out of blocks, I know he’s grown into a fine young man.
Shortly after my son passed his driver’s permit permit test, I went to the DMV to say thank you to Santa Claus. That Matchbox car meant the world to us and I wanted to offer him a gift certificate to help defray the cost of the toy cars he handed out to teens who passed their driving tests. I got emotional as I tried to find the right words to explain to him what his thoughtful gesture had meant to me, so I simply thanked him for recognizing that our son was once a little boy who loved cars.
“It’s my great pleasure to reward the kids who come through my line,” he said with a wink. “Now, if your license is up to date and there’s nothing else I can do for you, there’s a teenager waiting to take her test. Have a good day.”
I’m grateful to Santa Claus for making my son’s driving test a special memory for him. And me.
This post originally appeared on Your Teen for Parents.