Big Dude turned 16 a few months ago, that magic age where they go from passenger to driver-in-training. And that means one thing and one thing only:
Pass the V-A-L-I-U-M.
I give myself credit for doing one thing right. I enrolled him in a driver’s education class right away. In NY state, you can take driver’s ed without a learner’s permit as long as you are 16, which essentially means your child can learn to drive with someone else, but cannot practice with you in your car at home unless he has a permit. That worked perfectly for me.
Let someone else have his sanity tested for a few months, while I can relax at the nearby coffee shop with my iced tea and scone.
But then the inevitable happened: He finished his driver’s ed course, but still needed to practice if he ever planned to pass his road test.
I don’t think I ever saw my Big Dude study so hard for a test in his life. He was determined to pass that permit test and be driving around the neighborhood in no time.
I was hoping that his first experience with the DMV would deter him from wanting to take the permit test. We walked in and sure enough, it seemed as if there were hundreds of people waiting for their number to be called. I watched Big Dude’s face turn from glee to horror as he realized this would not be a quick endeavor. One man next to us said he had been waiting since 10:30 that morning. It was now 3:30 in the afternoon. I thought that Big Dude would make a mad dash out the door right then.
“Well, we did make a reservation. Maybe your number will get called within the next hour or so,” I offered.
“It’s fine. We’ll wait. I have nothing better to do,” he replied.
About 90 minutes later, he was the proud recipient of a NY State Learner’s Permit. As soon as he held it in his hands, he asked if he could drive home from there. It was already getting dark outside so I used that as my first excuse, explaining that the rules of permit holders mean no driving after dusk. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it sounded right to me.
A few days later, he cornered me again. His homework was finished, the sun was still shining, and I had nowhere to go.
Crap. I was stuck.
Before I could invent another clever excuse, he was already in the car with the keys in the ignition. I knew it would look bad if I brought a glass of chardonnay along for the ride, so I buckled up and took a deep breath. We both noticed that the gas tank was empty, so now we had a destination in mind — the neighborhood gas station. We had to make a choice: go to the one on the busy boulevard or on the more quiet street near town?
Like a typical boy, he chose the busy street, because in his male brain, that meant he could drive fast. After he pulled out of the driveway, I think I had an out of body experience. I was watching me watching him drive and the most incredible thing happened:
I was calm.
I know part of this had to do with the fact that thanks to his driver’s ed teacher, he could actually operate the vehicle. But, I think the other part had to do with letting go — not of my firstborn baby boy who was somehow behind the wheel — but letting go of my control freak ways. I knew there was no way either of us would get through that maiden voyage without me being calm and trusting.
I only raised my voice once to say, “slow down!” Other than that, it was mostly a smooth first ride around the neighborhood, including a quick pitstop at the gas station.
My two other dudes were eagerly awaiting our return back at the house. I know they were fully expecting us to come back (hopefully in one piece) with me in a frazzled state. We surprised them both as we entered through the front door.
“Well, he can drive!” I declared. “He was pretty good,” I added.
I think Middle Dude and Little Dude were hoping for more drama, or at least a harrowing first ride, but it miraculously didn’t happen. Of course, there’s always next time…