A new driver in the family

The other day when heading to the mailbox, I saw one of my neighbors with his two children, one who was driving in his little orange car and the other being pulled in another mini-car with a handle attached. We said hello and I told the older boy what a cool car he had. As I rounded the corner, I saw another neighbor, who was pushing her toddler in a blue push car. The toddler waved and I waved back and said hi to his mom.

This is what I really wanted to say to these parents.

Enjoy this sweet time with your kids in these cute little toy cars. I just got back from a short trip with my oldest son, who is now 16. I remember those days when he was driving around in his red Little Tikes Cozy Coupe on the winding sidewalks in our townhouse complex. On our most recent trip, he sat in the driver’s seat of our mini-van and I sat in the passenger seat, holding on tightly to the grab bar above my door and trying to be as encouraging as possible as we practiced freeway driving.

It’s kind of terrifying, really, and it takes my breath away how quickly this all happened. He’s completed his 10-week driving class (three hours each night) and every time we get in the car I await those three words that make my heart race. “Can I drive?” The next step in this process would be him getting his driver’s license, which would technically mean that he’ll be ready to drive alone.

Is he ready for this? Am I ready for this?

When he asks “Can I drive?” I usually say yes because realistically I know that the more practice he gets, the better he will be, but I still feel anxious. I know it’s a little silly because everyone needs to learn to drive at some point and most parents go through this and ultimately adults who drive were once teens just learning how to drive. But that realization doesn’t make it any easier.

I knew this time would come at some point. Here’s a 2011 post from my “Sunny with a chance of showers” blog.

On Thursday evening one night last week, me and the kids met a friend at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for a flashlight tour. It’s a self-guided tour along paths with different stations that you stop at to learn about different things. Zachary and Jadon got to feed a tortoise, learn about owls and bats and see a gecko, a bullfrog, tadpoles and a tarantula. Adam rode along in the stroller, pretty quietly during most of it until the loud protests near the end.

Zachary liked to be the leader, leading the way with his flashlight. I think it may have gotten to his head a little bit. When we got to the car, he opened the front door and climbed in the driver’s seat. “Can I drive?” he asked. “No,” I replied, “Please get in your seat.”

“I’ll be careful,” he said. “I won’t crash into anything.”

Perhaps the conversation came about because the weekend before we were at a birthday party at Peter Piper Pizza and he played one of the driving video games (which, I might add, involved a lot of crashing into the wall, spinning in circles and even flying off the side of bridges).

We went back and forth a few times, I even agreed that he could sit in the driver’s seat and pretend to drive (with the car off, of course). But no, he wasn’t seeking to be patronized. “No, really drive,” he said. “Mommy, I’ll be careful.”

It was a conversation I didn’t expect to have for at least 10 more years. Definitely not one I’d have with my 4-year-old.

And now here we are, about 12 years later and the “Can I drive?” question is a legit question.

I knew this day would come someday, but it always seemed so far in the future.

He’s actually doing a great job, taking it very seriously, though we’ve had a couple terrifying (to me) close calls. And for some reason algorithms on my phone and computer are sending news articles about fatal teen car crashes into my newsfeed, which doesn’t help this process.

Of course I didn’t say anything about any of this to the parents I passed on the way to the mailbox. But I would like to say this to all the other drivers out there in the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area: Please be patient and careful out there.

This article first appeared on leisah.substack.com.


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