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Tales from the Motherhood: Driving – what’s a milestone for teens, instills panic in parents

Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 3:46 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 8:32 a.m. CST

I hate to break it to my kid, the one who hates it when I put stickers on my car, but I’m getting another one for my new stickermobile. Yes indeed, he got his learner’s permit last Saturday morning and I ordered the “Student Driver” sticker that afternoon – after his first session in the driver’s seat. He did pretty well, actually. I only had to grab the wheel once. Saved a mailbox. But that sticker (well, I think it’s a magnet, actually) better get here quick.

The Department of Motor Vehicles office in Aurora was a busy place that morning. Crowded. Filled-beyond capacity, standing-room only. It was the weekend before school started, and it seemed like every 15-year-old in the county who planned to begin driver’s education at their high schools this week was there. And they each had at least one parent with them. Every one of those parents was grinning, myself included. What proud fools we all are. After all, our car insurance rates are about to skyrocket.

“If you take a picture of me while I’m taking the test they’ll think we’re cheating,” Noah said, as we waited in line.

Shoot. Whatever. I hadn’t even pulled my phone out of my pocket yet. The kid’s a mind-reader.

We got to the front of the second line where he was asked to sign something. He put his wallet on the counter and picked up the pen. I reached around him and grabbed the wallet, so we wouldn’t leave it behind.

A moment later he realized it was missing.

“Someone stole my wallet,” he said, slightly panicked.

I handed it back to him. I hadn’t meant to teach him a lesson, but there it was. I love it when they happen by accident.

“There’s nothing in it but a free Frosty card,” he admitted, smiling.

“Not after today, there won’t be,” I said.

“Twenty,” was all the next clerk said, at the next counter.

That was it. Just “twenty.”

Noah handed her the money and she stamped his application.

“Mom,” she said, “you can have a seat in general [seating].”

Ah. My cue to cut the cord, I guess. (I wonder if she ever says anything else but “twenty” and, “Mom, you can have a seat in general,” all day. What must that be like? Does she say it in her sleep?) I did as I was told and then she handed him the test.

Five minutes later Noah was back in line. A different one this time, where his test was graded. He passed with flying colors. I resisted the urge to cheer “whoo hoo!” like I do at the kids’ soccer games, but I did grin. A lot. And then we called Geico. Fortunately, the rates don’t actually go up until next year, when he gets his license. Sweet! But we still needed to add him to the policy. Just in case.

When Grandma found out he was driving, she said, “Just remember, never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” For some reason, though, Noah keeps rambling on about some movie called “The Fast and the Furious.” Whatever it is, it can’t be good. But I’m not taking any chances. I’ve spent a good bit of time with him in the parking lot at the park, having him see how far he can go, how much he can do and how far he can turn the wheel – without ever putting his foot on the gas, so he can realize that there’s a ton of subtle and effective maneuvering he can do without ever leaning on the pedals.

On our second pass through the lot, we passed near the pair of tall pine trees that he used to climb. I remember when that was the scariest thing he ever did. Those were the days.

“Realize that at any moment a kid on a scooter could appear,” I said soberly, as we practiced braking.

“Yeah, like me, chasing after a tennis ball,” he said, recalling that awful moment five years ago when one got away from him in our driveway and rolled into the street. He ran after it. Thank God he’d been wearing a helmet (he’d just gotten off his bike), because when the car hit him, he flew up and several feet away, into the oncoming lane, where he landed and hit his head.  All he had to show for it were a few bruises, but the hair around my temples went gray overnight. I suppose it’ll all go gray, now that he’s driving, but I digress.

“This is gonna be hard,” Noah said, later, when he observed me driving through an intersection at Randall Road.

“Nah,” I said, and laughed, “but I bet you have a new appreciation for how hard it’s been for me when I’m driving and people are bickering or haranguing me, right?” He grinned.

He nodded. He got it. It was one of those moments we parents pine for, that, “You’ll know what I mean, someday,” moment. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.

“So, what was it like watching your big brother drive away?” I asked Holly, after Noah and I returned from our joyride.

She shrugged, clearly nonplussed.

“But Daddy was a nervous wreck,” she said.

Uh huh, yeah. So, where is that sticker, anyway?
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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