Wings Grown Here, Just Add Gasoline
I have a new driver in the house! My kid, fifteen years old for just over a week, is actually a great driver. He’s been pulling our family car into and out of the driveway for years, getting prepared for that Big Day we thought would never come. His first car accident (oh yes, he’s already had one) was at a barn when he was seven years old. He hit a fence post at breakneck speed (about a mile per hour) because he could barely see over the steering wheel.
He learned to steer, to accelerate, and to brake on a Power Wheels four-wheeler before he even started kindergarten. We watched him race full speed around our yard, my husband and I impressed by his dexterity and prowess — how he could steer it with his knees at age four as he stood up on it with his arms above his head. Plus he has been driving boats out on the open water since he was in elementary school and speeding golf carts over putting greens, mostly unsupervised, since middle school. The kid knows how to drive.
So what the heck is my problem now that it’s all ‘official’ and everything?
He scares the crap out of me, that’s what. And it makes me a little sad that we’re here already, at that age where they really do cross over into adulthood.
He and I see our voyages out together with very different perspectives, and because I am unable to get a single result from the passenger-side brake pedal I feverishly mash, on occasion we find ourselves getting a little punchy with one another. It’s a mixture of both nostalgia and trepidation, and when those tragic images of intersection collisions flash through my head, I’m unnerved every time I hear his seat-belt click.
I meet my demise in the bathtub.
Our garage backs up to my bedroom, so I am convinced each time I hear him crank the car that at any moment he will come plowing through the wall and into my bathroom. Then the paramedics will have to dig me out, naked and pale, from under the rubble.
He will take out the other cars in the driveway in front of us.
To hear me go on, you would think he was pulling into people’s driveways at 60 mph. It feels like he is, and my passenger brakes, again, never do me any good. As he whips in behind the parked car in front of him, I always picture the destruction and humiliation that will ensue after he runs over someone else’s Ford Expedition.
Hold on! We’re coming around on two wheels!
That’s what it feels like when he swings wide. Since I’ve made him skittish with my panicky warnings, he now practically puts us in the ditch turning left at an intersection. I have warned him so excessively about not hesitating that now he sorta punches it when the light turns green, makes a wide berth, and I brace myself to tip over as we round the turn. Sometimes I even feel the tires come off the ground a little…okay, not really.
Passing, like on the Indy.
He was doing so well the other night that I actually let myself get distracted. Looking down at my phone without a care in the world, I suddenly felt a shift in my position. I looked up, and sure enough, we were passing a car that had stopped in front of us (it was making a turn). I braced and waited on Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr. to come around my side and wipe us out. I anticipated the rear-ending crash that I just knew was coming. But it was fine; there was no one. He looked back (twice he said) and it was only me who wasn’t paying attention.
I’ve been driving wrong all these years.
Did you know? Driving with two hands is “not comfortable.” Driving with one hand limply draped over the steering wheel, with a slight bodily lean to the center is most comfortable for him. He says it feels weird to drive with both hands on the wheel in an erect posture, hands positioned at 10:00 and 2:00, like I do. Well then by all means, I think to myself, we wouldn’t want you to be ‘uncomfortable.’
Turn that down! I can’t see!
Nothing screams T-boned at an intersection like a Kanye West song played at maximum volume. “How can you see if cars are coming when the radio is this loud?” I ask him. Then I get the eyeroll and accompanying head shake. Sometimes my life flashes before my eyes as he pulls into traffic while I fumble with the Pandora station he wants to listen to. At least his “jam” will be the last thing he ever hears, or maybe it will be my shrieks of terror if we die this way. I have never needed an aux cord before. When did that become a thing?
Oh. So you CAN wash a car.
How about that? His room smells like dog and feet, his backpack has melted gum in the bottom of it, and his toilet has had a pink ring in it since summer, but that car he intends to drive is immaculate. One dog hair renders the need for a complete disinfection and it regularly gets vacuumed and Armor-Alled. This only applies to his car though, not mine. Mine is filthy and shall remain so unless he suddenly inherits it.
Yes, Son. Gas is expensive.
One of the predictable conversations we have together in the car every time we are out is how he plans to put fuel in it. My sage warnings about driving include that he will suddenly have many friends who need rides, and the beach is a really long way from here. I have been cautioning him about this since he was little: if you are old enough to drive all over creation by yourself, you should be buying your own gas. In this family, with two vehicles that average a whopping 13 mpg, it’s every man for himself. Welcome to the working world, kid. You’re going to need a job.
Your first car is special.
Mine was a 1979 royal blue Pontiac Grand Prix and the heat ran on high ALL YEAR or it would make a loud, growling noise. So it was, my sister and I tooling about town in July with our windows down so we didn’t faint from the heat on max power. I’m excited that Ben will be driving his dad’s truck, a solid old girl that can withstand a few parking-lot bang-ups and boat-ramp altercations; a truck that will carry his sweet girlfriend around town with him, the two of them singing to the radio with the windows down as she sits in the middle seat, right next to him. That’s a lot of the fun of what driving is all about in the beginning, being with people you love who enjoy sharing that brand new experience with you.
Everything changes after this.
The days of riding to school together and talking about friends and girls and homework are almost over. The days of asking for permission to go places and see people and do things are almost over. The days of knowing most of what goes on during my child’s waking hours, who he was with and every single thing they did together, are almost over. Everything changes once they start to drive, and I have about a year left. As a veteran teacher of fifteen-year-olds, I can tell you firsthand that a driver’s license is a freedom license. It changes them on the inside; their spirit is released from captivity and the first feathers of their little white wings pop out of their backs the moment they exit the DMV holding that learner’s permit. They become adults as we watch them hoist themselves behind the wheel for the first time, and they must be trusted to fly from our nests. YES, this causes me endless worry, but it’s one of the Stages of Life, and it’s a big one. We must counsel them about safety without easing; we must pray for good judgment without ceasing; and we must never give up in the belief that they move under God’s hand now. I hope He rides shotgun with Ben all the days of his life when I can’t, and I laugh to think of Him mashing on those imaginary brakes. You know He does.