From First Words to First Cars: The Scary Business of your Kids Growing Up

AustinI remember when I had my first child. I was so excited for him to talk! I couldn’t wait until he took his first step! I sat on the floor, coaxing him, waiting for him to take those first wobbly steps into my outstretched arms. There were so many fun, exciting firsts! The first time he smiled, the first time he rolled over, his first tooth, his first solid food, losing his first tooth, his first words, the first time he slept through the night, the first time he used the potty seat. Of course, by the time I got to my sixth child, I’d come to the realization that those first precious words just led to talking, talking, and more talking. Somehow, “Mom, can I have some money” isn’t quite as fun as that first, “Mama”. And by the time my sixth baby started standing up, instead of encouraging her to walk to me, I pushed her back down because, quite frankly, walking is highly overrated as it just leads to whole new worlds of mischief they can get into.

Somewhere along the line, those amazing firsts that made me giddy with happiness were replaced by scary firsts. The first date, the first girlfriend/boyfriend, the first job, the first graduation, the first time they got behind the wheel of the car, the first time they took out the neighbor’s mailbox in said car. (Man, that thing FLEW!)

Back home in Chicagoland, driver’s ed. was not only offered in high school, it was required to graduate. Down here in Florida, driver’s ed. isn’t even offered at my kids’ high school. Go figure. Florida, the number one state for running red lights. Florida, number one in hitting pedestrians. Florida, the state where my car insurance doubled when I moved here. Yeah, that state. Seems to me, Florida should be should be doubling efforts to keep their roads safe instead of cutting back on programs, but what do I know.

It’s a scary thing when your teens learn to drive. Images from headlines detailing traffic accidents flash through your mind. You wonder if you’ll be able to stress enough the importance of putting the phone away when they drive. You remember the bumpy ride you took back when that same teen was 5-years-old and “drove” around on the speedway at Disney World, banging back and forth against the metal guide rail. You  consider buying them a horse to ride to school instead of letting them get a license.

Savannah was very eager to learn how to drive, badgering me to take her out every chance she got. Austin, on the other hand, although he’s older, had no desire to learn for a long time. I was just find and dandy with that! Because Savannah was so insistent, I taught her to drive. She caught on easily and did well right from the start (well, except for the mailbox incident). Austin, I think, had a harder time learning from my subpar teaching efforts. Plus, because he wasn’t asking me to take him driving all the time like his sister did, he didn’t get nearly as much time behind the wheel. Now that he’s going to be starting college soon, we figured he’d better get some more experience and get his license. Because I was doing a sucky job teaching him (who knew that screaming STOOOOOPPPPP wasn’t a terribly effective way to teach driver’s ed?), I opted to sign him up for private driving lessons. The thing about lessons from a driving school is that the car they use has a brake on the passenger side. I’m pretty sure I could’ve done a better job teaching my kids if I’d had a brake on my side. Or those metal guide rails from Disney’s speedway.

According to Austin, the lessons were great. His instructor taught him things I never even thought to mention. It’s hard teaching someone how to do something that you yourself do automatically without thinking. It never occurred to me to tell him to check his mirrors, how to hold the steering wheel, or to make sure his feet were on the pedals correctly. After his last lesson today, he drove to the DMV with his instructor in the driving school’s car in order to take his test. I was supposed to meet them there. I wanted to be there for him when he got his license just like I was there for Savannah.

Before I could drive to the DMV however, I had to shower after my morning walk in the 10,000 degree Florida humidity. After standing in icy water for an abnormally long time, I got out and dried off. Then I realized I forgot to actually wash and shave. I’m blaming it on my near heat stroke. After my shower part two, I quickly got dressed, looked at the clock, and breathed a sigh of relief that I still had enough time to get to the DMV. I hopped in my van and drove a couple blocks when my check engine light came on. Oh crap,  I should probably check this since the whole ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ strategy I’d been employing for the past two weeks wasn’t working. I briefly thought that this was probably another thing Austin’s driving instructor told him about – don’t ignore your gauges. I pulled into the gas station, only took 2 minutes to remember how to open the hood, checked my oil, and found it bone dry. Oops. I don’t neglect oil changes, I really don’t. But for some reason, my car burns oil like crazy. I can never seem to make it 3 months without adding oil. I ran into the store, bought 2 quarts, poured them in, and figured that had to be good enough. I looked at my dirt–smeared, oil-stained hands and cursed car maintenance and other manly jobs that I hate. Then I took off for the DMV.

I looked at the clock. Shoot, Austin’s going to be done before I get there, I worried. I took off, following the directions on my GPS until the GPS told me to take a road that doesn’t exist. Instead of pulling a Michael Scott and turning into a lake, I continued driving straight, knowing the GPS would soon admonish me with its ‘recalculating’. My GPS directed me to continue going straight, then it had me turn into a residential neighborhood. After driving around the streets there for a good mile, it instructed me to make a u-turn and retrace my steps back to the non-existent road. Whaaaa? I yelled obscenities at the stupid thing and continued driving past the invisible road. Eventually, the GPS rerouted me to an actual street and I was able to arrive at my destination. Austin had already taken and passed the test, he’d had his picture taken, he’d paid for the license, and he was outside waiting for me. My heart fell. I didn’t make it in time to witness this milestone.

As I thought about all the hours I’d spent at the DMV the 3 times I took Savannah there, I decided getting there late after Austin had already done the waiting and had taken care of business was kind of nice. I could still celebrate his accomplishment.

Although the milestones get a little scarier as your kids get older, and although you no longer look toward them with eager anticipation, but more a bittersweet combination of pride and a sense of sadness and loss, they’re still milestones. And they’re still worth celebrating. I mean, once you have a licensed driver in the house, you have someone to send out to the store on emergency chocolate runs. And that’s a good thing!

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