I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my car, gripping the door handle so tightly that my knuckles are now white. I have a large lump in my throat. My foot is cramped from repeatedly hitting the imaginary brake pedal in front of me — HARD.
I’m teaching my 16-year-old son how to drive.
Teaching your child how to drive is, well, challenging. There are the practical challenges of finding the time and patience. Then there is the imparting of all the responsibility involved. And then, there’s figuring out how to explain which way to turn the wheel when you’re parallel parking. It’s uncanny how tricky it can be explaining, in detail, something that just comes so naturally to you (while keeping your cool). To top it off, there is the realization that your child is taking a large — two-ton —lurch towards independence.
Yes, “learning to drive” is just one milestone of many, but for some reason it feels so much bigger. Maybe because there is so much at stake; issues of safety, driver responsibility, and the the cost of car insurance now that a teen will be behind the wheel of our family car.
But, as I look back, many of our family transitions felt like the biggest ones during the times we were facing them. And they were; at the time.
So maybe I didn’t fear for my life when my son went off to his first day of preschool, but I was definitely apprehensive. I remember thinking, Will he enjoy it? Will he be safe? … And now what am I supposed to do?
It turned out, that after all that preparation and worry, the transition was harder on me than it was on him.
Then, there was the time when I misjudged my son’s first foray into homework by a mile. For a boy who LOVED school, this would be so fun and exciting, right? The true mark of a big boy. Wrong. He was not at all excited by the idea of spending his afternoons this way. Finally, after many tear-stained worksheets, it occurred to me that I just needed to ride out this wave. I might have missed my chance to prepare for it, but in acknowledging it, I had the opportunity to work through it.
When I took him for his driver’s permit test, there was nothing I could actually do to help him. There had been so much practice and preparation, but I worried fiercely for him. This was one more time he would have to prove his independence.
It’s when my son is actually staying in his lane that I am able to recall all of the big and small transitions we’ve faced together. From his first smiles to his first steps; his first day of school to his first date. And now this, his first time driving. I know it sounds like a leap here, from potty-training to parallel parking. It just really did happen so fast (and seems even faster when your kid mistakes the accelerator for the brake).
It’s with a tinge of sadness that I realize most of the transitions ahead of him will not be shared with me.
These milestones help to shape us and learn more about each other. The excitement of an achievement or a brand-new experience energizes us both. And the frustrations we face help us learn how to talk to each other — and when to refrain from talking. We, as parents, can build on each milestone to help our children face the larger, scarier experiences.
Driving is not only a rite of passage for him, but teaching my child how to drive is also one for me. I need to push past my extreme nervousness and embrace the moment. As with all phases, this too will pass, and he will be all the more independent after it. So when he asks if I’ll take him for a drive — even when I’m tired and don’t feel know if I have the stomach to risk yet another neighbor’s mailbox — I grab my coat and we go.
This is fun. This is scary. This is life.
Is he ready? Is he responsible enough? I guess we won’t know until we give it a go. And for right now, 25 mph is a perfect pace for us.