My eldest turned 16 in late April, then passed her driver's ed permit test six weeks ago. As we live in a part of New Jersey where cars are still pretty necessary for most of life, and she's got an active social life, this is a big thing. We also have a third car, a twenty year old Ford that's reliable enough for short trips, and there's no great way for her to get back and forth to high school, what with my wife and I both working now. So getting her started and experienced behind the wheel is important, and the laws of the state are that they don't impact your insurance until they are a rated driver, as opposed to a kid with a permit. (Yeah, I know, that makes no sense to me, either.) So after a half dozen trips to a wide range of DMVs, which is a whole 'nother kettle of goog God almighty, do you people suck... she drives.
I don't know how many of you are parents, or are hoping to get there, but there are few things in the world more strange than being in the car with your kid when they drive for the first time. I was there, and it hardly seems like a very long time ago, when she was a bump in my wife's stomach. I own things that are older than her. Hell, the car she is slated to drive is older than she is. So to just hand her the keys and have her drive me home, all while trying to project a sense of calm about the whole thing...
Well, parenting is, at its core, pretending that you know what you are doing when you have no clue. The kids see through this as they get older, and call you on it, because that's part of growing up and all... but it's also challenging and terrible, because this relationship where you used to have all of the answers is now just becoming another place where you can be challenged for no good reason whatsoever. And more if you've raised a kid to challenge, which is what we've seemed to have done, whether on purpose or not.
It also, and there is no two ways to put this, makes you feel extremely old, extremely quickly. Once the kid is driving, there's even less sense of why you need to be around, assuming the kid isn't making terrible choices. Just in case you weren't aware that the finish line is coming -- if there can be such a thing -- having the kid behind the wheel bangs it home hard. She's ever-closer to leaving, and she's not ready to yet, but on some level, no one ever is. If I were to keel over tonight on my doomed attempt to stay healthy and/or eat badly without weight gain, most of what I would have wanted to tell her has already been said. She might not remember it all immediately, but it would bubble up in her acts and deeds, and she'd get through it. Not without a great deal of difficulty, but on some level, me being around would also be its own stress.
None of this is meant to suggest that I'm going anywhere. I've made my place in the world, and the youngest is still just turning 11 in a couple of weeks; needs there are going to be strong, and it seems like the modern generation leans hard on their parents all the way into their mid to late '20s. But not every time out, and there are, of course, no guarantees on time; either how much you have, or how much people have with you.
All of this from a stamp at a DMV, and a couple of hours as someone else's passenger. Quite an experience, really.
(As to how she drives? She's cautious to the point of scary, speeds up and slows down a little erratically, and makes me nervous... but I think I've done a reasonable job of not showing it, and there's really nothing wrong that a few hundred hours of driving won't fix. The trick now, of course, is getting it without incident. And trying not to dwell on the fact that this is just about the most dangerous thing that we let teenagers do, and something that technology will, in all likelihood, eliminate in a decade or two...)