Learner's PermitIf I ask what two words most strike fear into your heart, you might say “income tax,” “mother-in-law visit” or “colonoscopy appointment.”

If I ask about the words that most scare a parent, I might hear “college expenses,” “birth control prescription” (I’m being pretty loose with my definition of two words), or “Iwannadropoutofschoolandbe aprosurfer” (see previous parenthetical note).  The words currently scaring the you-know-what out of me are “teen driver.”

The View from the Death Seat

Yes, my daughter recently turned fifteen and got her learner’s permit.  She attended Master Drive, but as you parents who have hit this milestone already know, most of the learning gets done in the family vehicle with mom or dad captive in the death seat (front passenger seat).  Let me hasten to say that my daughter is unusually responsible and has truly excellent judgment in most matters (yeah, I’m probably biased), so I’m overall happy that she’s on track to get a driver’s license next summer because then I won’t have to play chauffeur quite so often.  But … (You knew there was going to be a “but,” didn’t you?)

It’s a scary thing to take a neophyte, plunk her down behind the wheel of a weapon of mass destruction (yes, our Dodge Caravan qualifies as a WMD), and turn her loose.  I try to stifle my gasps as she scrapes by a half-inch from a parked car’s mirror, and I try to be calm when I warn her to look out for the bicyclist.  I tell her she can’t adopt the following slogan as her motto:  “If you don’t like my driving, stay off the sidewalk.”

So far, we’ve only tried neighborhood streets and one semi-main drag where the speed limit is 40 mph.  I’m letting Master Drive take her on the interstate for the first time—they’ve got cars with dual controls, after all.
Handing over the keys to a teen driver

I Asked for Independence

I have visions of fender benders in our future, or speeding tickets, or even—heaven forbid!—a major accident.  I console myself with the knowledge that the latter is statistically unlikely.  (Those of you who have been reading my posts for a while will remember that statistics don’t help me feel comfortable with flying.)

The part that really gives me a pang, though, is that a driver’s license represents a huge leap into independence.  She won’t need me to drive her around as much come next summer, and I won’t share that time in the car with her, listening to her reactions to whatever event, practice, or party she just attended.  She’ll spend more time with friends or at work, and less with us (her nuclear family), and that’s as it should be as she finishes up her last years in high school and heads for college.  Still, it doesn’t make it much easier knowing that independence has been the parenting goal all along.

I guess it’s not really the words “teen driver” that cause me grief.  It’s the single word “goodbyethanksforraisingmeI’mdrivinggtocollegeinanotherstateandyouwon’tseemeagainuntil-ChristmasandmaybenotoverthesummersinceIwanttoworkataduderanchandthenI’llgraduate-andtakeajobinMaliandseeyoueveryotheryearorso” that makes me want to tear up her driver’s permit right now.

The problem with having a teen driver is that all too soon she’ll be able to drive on her own.  Drive away.

You’ll have to excuse me, now. I’ve got to go find that permit before she gets home from school …