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My 10 favorite minutes of every weekday are 7:10 to 7:20 a.m.

That's when I drive our 14-year-old son to school.

With the exception of a couple of years when our older son (now in college) was the family chauffeur, the morning car line has been my domain for almost 20 years.

Even though the school bus stops about 50 feet from our house, I still insist on driving our ninth-grader to school every morning. After school, he rides the bus home while his educator mother and I are working.

All my morning rituals are built around that 10-minute drive: my 6 a.m. alarm, the 6:30 a.m. knock on our son's bedroom door to tell him his pancakes are ready, the 6:55 a.m. dog walk.

If we leave promptly at 7:10 a.m., everything goes smoothly. If we are five minutes late, we get stuck in a long drop-off line. This supports my theory that being a little early in life (rather than a tad late) makes all the difference.

Plus, I like the clockwork precision of hitting those marks. We are all creatures of habit, and well-worn schedules make life more predictable.

Mostly, I like starting the day with these short, neutral conversations with my son. Nothing too deep. He asks me if I have interviews planned at work. If it's a day I teach a college class, he wishes me well. I ask him about his homework load and whether he has a test that day.

Boys, I've discovered, do their best talking in a car — eyes ahead. There's something about riding shotgun that seems to put them at ease. Even though we exchange mostly small talk, I know immediately if our younger son is OK. It's easy to take his temperature by just listening to his voice.

I can hear joy. I can hear worry. That's important with 14-year-olds, who can go off the rails emotionally without much notice.

"I'm taking a nap as soon as I get home this afternoon," he'll announce.

"I don't blame you," I reply, thinking to myself "a 7:45 a.m. school bell is brutal on teenagers."

I ask if he remembered to pack his lunch, and we go over his after-school plans.

Sometimes, if I'm feeling playful, I'll reach out and squeeze his knee, which sends him into convulsions of laughter.

My plan is to keep this up at least through the end of the school year. This time next year, he will be almost 16 and ready to get his driver's license.

Sometimes, on our rides to work, we talk about traffic rules — he's studying for his learner's permit test. He asks about four-way-stop etiquette.

He reminds me about his deep desire to have an antique Ford F-150 as his first vehicle; and I remind him of my "no vehicles without airbags" rule for him and his brother.

When he prepares to hop out of the car at the entrance to high school, he remembers to say "I love you," just before he opens the door.

"Love you, too," I reply.

I'm counting the months until our morning ritual ends. It will be especially poignant since he is the baby.

I have often said that the driver's license, not the high school diploma, is the document that marks the end of a childhood.

In the meantime, I figure I've got about 3,000 of these morning drives in the books and only about 200 left to go.

Where did the years go?

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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