It is payback time in my house: payback for all the speeding tickets, the erratic lane changes, and rolling stops. It is time to teach a new driver how to drive.
Mere seconds after my fifteen-year-old turned fifteen, she handed me a copy of our state’s driver’s manual and requested, “Quiz me. I want to take the learner’s permit test tomorrow.”
Wasn’t it just yesterday when I was cutting up her meat, teaching her how to write her name, and telling her that pottying in her socks was not a talent I wanted her to boast about to all the neighborhood mothers? A day later, my daughter, with a new learner’s permit tucked safely away in her wallet, held out her hand and asked for the car key. “Let’s go, Mom. I’m ready to drive,” she announced.
I motioned to my husband. “Come join in the fun,” I said as I followed her out to the car. Moments later, we were all buckled in the car: my daughter in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger seat, and my husband in the middle of the back seat. I turned to look at him. “Are those the pillows from our bed tucked around you?” I asked.
“This is the safest place in the car. The pillows are just here for added protection,” he answered as he closed his eyes and folded his hands. Just as I was attempting to decipher what prayer he was mouthing with his lips and wondering why he wasn’t wearing his bicycle helmet, the car lurched into reverse and zoomed backwards out of the driveway. “Brake! Brake! Braaaaaaaaaaakkkke!” I shouted.
My daughter stomped on the pedal. The car screeched to a stop. I methodically began removing each fingernail from the dashboard. My husband began praying louder. My daughter squealed with excitement, “Isn’t this great?”
I took a deep breath. It was time to put my NPR radio announcer voice to work. As I calmly began my lecture on residential speed limits and the importance of checking mirrors before switching lanes, my daughter became acquainted with the power of the pedals beneath her feet. The car weaved gently as she attempted to aim the car between the lines. All was going remarkably well until from the back seat, my husband suddenly yelled, “SQUIRREL! 600 FEET!”
My daughter, who is apparently known in some circles for her cat-like reflexes, stepped on the brake with the same force she used to kill an innocent spider who had made the life-altering mistake of wandering into her bedroom the week before, moved her hands from the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel, and screamed. Or was that me who screamed?
The anti-lock brakes locked. The squirrel looked like a deer in headlights. The car skidded to a stop. “Everyone okay?” I asked as the squirrel skipped across the road, probably heading for the nearest vet’s office to find a defibrillator to restart his heart. I turned to look at my husband. He had a pillow in each hand, clasped firmly to each ear. His eyes darted from side to side.
“Is the squirrel dead?” My daughter opened one eye, then the other.
“The squirrel is fine,” I answered in my now slightly shaky NPR radio announcer voice. “Shall we begin again?”
From the back seat once, I heard my husband quietly declare in a slightly muffled voice, “Take me out of the oven. I am done.”
As my daughter attempted to perform a “Y” turn in the middle of the road that slowly evolved into a cock-eyed mixture of “W,” “X” and “Z” turns, I came to the realization that somehow when I wasn’t looking, my little girl had transformed into a determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted: independence. I took another deep breath. It was time to start letting go. As we headed home to drop off scaredy-cat-fraidy-cat, I silently expressed my gratitude for the few more precious months I had before she turned old enough to navigate on the roads—and through life—without me.
Just as I reached over to pat her knee and tell her what a good job she was doing, my husband shouted from the backseat, “RABBIT! 15 FEET AHEAD!”
This is going to be a long few months.