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The Driver’s Permit

12/31/2008 04:00PM ● Published by Super Admin

My feet brace against the floorboard. My heart sounds like a galloping horse inside my chest. I grip the dashboard with both hands, which is dumb because if the airbag deploys, my arms will be snapped like brittle little branches. But I can’t help myself – I am experiencing one of the most underrated terrors of parenting: the learner’s permit.  

For 15 and-a-half years, we’ve only cared about the safety of our children. From Mr. Yuk stickers on cleaning products to practically encasing them in bubble wrap before letting them ride a bike or skateboard, we have exercised a remarkably okay, sometimes excessive, degree of control to help our kids remain unscarred.    

But all that “control” ends the day they get their driver’s permit. It’s the first real whiff most of us get in learning that from here on out, our teen’s fate will lie less with us, and more with their own developing judgment skills. And, with this particular milestone you get to sit right there with them and share the consequences of any momentary lapse of reason.       

The child is my daughter, Emma. For most of her life we maintained that she would never drive until she turned 18. But, that changed when she hit high school and we suddenly found ourselves serving as her personal chauffeurs for her increasingly busy school and social calendar. She’s a lousy tipper to boot. So she spent much of the summer whittling away at her online driver’s test, proudly reporting that she’d scored 88 percent on the final exam. “What about the other 12 percent?” I asked. “Oh it was something about merging onto the freeway, and what you do if your brakes fail,” she responded. Great. “I’m joking, dad.” Ha. Ha.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes? I would also add “or in passenger seats next to someone with a learner’s permit.” In fact, barreling down Roseville Parkway with your inexperienced 15 year-old is pretty much the definition of faith: faith in God, your kid, other drivers, and your vehicle’s air bags. You suddenly appreciate the preciousness of life, and how fast 45 mph really is.

I am by nature a fairly excitable individual. I can’t help it. I cheer when my team scores. I applaud good news. I scream at oncoming headlights. So it’s been a challenge these last few months to maintain a consistent level of calm in certain driving situations. I have found that politeness helps.  

“Dearest daughter, you almost cut in front of that speeding cement truck.”

“I had my blinker on.”

“My lovely first child, did you know he was even there?”

“After he honked, yes.”

“Reflection of your mother’s beauty, if you do that again you’ll be riding public transportation until you’re 80.”

Truthfully though, she’s getting better. She’s learned that yellow does not mean “punch it,” the radio is best left on dad’s station, and a good left turn means all four tires remain in contact with the pavement. She’s even learned to use her blinker. In a few scary months, it will be like setting a baby duck free to paddle across a pond that you know is filled with voracious, duckling-loving bass. Comforting, right?   

I know 2009 is going to be an interesting year for all of us: a new president, an uncertain economy, the Kings. But unless you’re in the same passenger seat as my wife and me, count your blessings. And if you see a red Passat with a starry-eyed teen behind the wheel, and Dad with his eyes closed in what looks to be prayer, please, give us room. Especially if you’re driving a cement truck.

Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.

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