A good friend of mine called last week to tell me how elated she was that her 16-year-old son was about to get his driver’s license. She felt liberated from her carpool days and looked forward to him not only driving himself responsibly to school and his extracurricular activities, but his siblings as well. The woman was hallucinating.
I never knew the meaning of fear until my son got his driver’s license. Unless you are referring to the period of time during which he took driver’s ed, when I discovered that if you grip the dashboard hard enough you can leave permanent fingerprints.
Some excursions in the company of my son took me places I’d never been - like up on curbs, or the wrong way down one-way streets. It was then I adopted the practice of dropping to my knees and kissing the driveway at the end of each day’s driving practice.
Part of the process of becoming parents is that certain portions of your brain, the rational parts, begin to dissolve. Delusional thinking becomes attractive. Which is why, despite all the advice you have from parents with older kids, you believe your children will be different. Which is why you hand your child your car keys, relieved you don’t have to drive him to school that day. Which is exactly what I did the day my son killed my car.
He said it really wasn’t his fault. He was driving along at the speed limit or maybe below it with two hands on the wheel, when out of nowhere, in his lane, appeared something big and yellow with red flags on it. Who knew that steamrollers could not go faster than 15 miles an hour? He was pretty sure Mr. Jones did not discuss steam rollers in driver’s ed. I was pretty sure when I was 50, I might let him borrow my bicycle, or maybe not.
During my reign as the “Queen of Mean,” I guarded my car keys as furiously as a mother lion does her cubs. I ate with them, slept with them and when I showered, I made sure I could see them. About this time, I discovered a powerful truth. There are only three things that motivate teenagers – their phone, their music and the car keys. Take away one of those and you have a child who suddenly notices the 3-foot-high pile of trash waiting to go out. Beds are made, clothes are washed and the cereal-bowl-under-the-bed count drops dramatically.
Soon I was sending my son on errands with my car again. Life had returned to normal. Well, maybe not normal, but whose life is, really?
When I reflect on the challenge of raising teenagers, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my mom years ago. I called her to whine about how stressful it was to spend every day with a 2-year-old plastered around my neck and a 4-year-old hanging on my leg for most of the day. Her words were prophetic, “Honey, this is the easiest your life is ever going to be.” I wonder how she knew?