Lately I’ve had a lot of time to stop and smell the roses. I’ve been taking the slow lane, enjoying the scenery. No, I’m not enjoying a newfound sense of Zen peace. I’m playing driving instructor to our 16-year-old.
We paid a nice driving school a hefty sum to teach him in classroom and in car. This is so I we wouldn’t leave out any crucial detail, such as stop sign safety or what one does at railroad crossings.
Our son did well on the classroom portion. He was also trained in car and handed back to us with a laminated certificate indicating he was ready to drive a certain number of hours in car with a parent, before taking his official test.
This is where I come in.
I am the designated temporary driving permit parent and let me tell you — it’s educational. As it turns out I’m a terrible driver. I had no idea until I tried to teach my son. I tend to gasp and lean in an awful lot.
Like many new drivers he shies away from the center (good) but spends a lot of time riding the ditch (bad). On the upside I’ve seen a lot of interesting things. Beer cans and road kill mostly.
I am actually just terrible at scheduling time for him to drive. I’m always in a hurry, and while I don’t speed, I do like to drive the speed limit and get where I’m going in the normally allotted time. A new driver, understandably, is a bit more hesitant, and thus all our trips take a bit longer. This is normal and to be expected.
It has also come to my attention I may be dragging my feet on getting him his actual license. My inner smother mother has to be tamped down to allow this child to grow up. It’s not always easy but I know it’s the right thing to do.
The truth is, our son is a good driver. He is careful and cautious and exactly what we want to see behind the wheel. I don’t want an overly confident, careless driver; I want the one who believes every intersection is a death trap (it is!) and beyond every hill is a drunk driver texting their next meth deal.
On the other hand, once the technical considerations are out of the way, I want him to know freedom — with limits. It is so tough when kids take new steps to know when we are doing right — and wrong. Driving is the one area where there seem to be no hard and fast rules for parents. Every family handles it differently.
There are the state laws on driving, and some in our state make perfect sense. One I’ve applauded makes it illegal for an underage driver to transport more than one non-related underage person in the car with them. This is certainly safer than a carload of kids out careening around.
Then you add dating — and how this precludes double dates — and you suddenly realize there are different kinds of safety and putting teens in cars alone together can be fraught with other kinds of risk. Still, at the risk of offending in a family publication, I’ll take the risk of heavy petting over a carload of teens wrapped around a tree any day.
Meanwhile once the limited state rules are out of the way, it is difficult as parents to decide who, what, when and how much freedom we will allow. The families I respect have great guidelines, a lot of trust, and enough check-in to give the child both structure and freedom. I’m thinking pulling over every 10 minutes to text me their location is a bit much, but expecting to be kept in the loop on where they plan to travel, where and when is reasonable. Driving friends, riding with friends — it’s all so new.
When they first learn to walk, it’s fairly easy. Put up the baby gates and hold your arms outstretched to cushion their fall. As they grow older we fear putting them on the school bus, but know somehow for most it’s the right step too.
It is daunting as a parent to realize the child I have carefully cosseted and later, chaperoned, through 16-plus years of life will soon be trusted with a driver’s license and the equivalent of a rolling living room on wheels. That this next step can lead to serious injury or worse. It’s easy to want to hold on to the car keys forever.
All I can hope to do is drive home the point about responsibility, safety (in more ways than one) and the fact that every time they pull out of the driveway they take my heart — and one-third of my world — with them as they go.