Yesterday was Sonny Boy’s 16th birthday. He was very excited. I am handling this birthday/milestone much better than when he turned 10– much, much better. When he turned 10 I didn’t feel old enough to have to a kid hit “double digits”. I’ve got three of the “double digit”-ers now, it got easier with each one.
We didn’t have big plans, but did plan to take his driver’s road test, and if he passed we would go get his drivers license. To his great joy, we got there on time. He passed the basic skills part pretty easily. ( “I don’t know why everyone freaks out about parallel parking. It’s no big deal, you just go do it”, says he.) I was glad that didn’t take very long; it was a little chilly with a breeze and the parking lot still had massive snow piles trying to melt, which I happened to be standing next to. If you’re not sure what that feels like, just think walking into a walk-in beverage cooler with the fans blowing and waiting there for 10 minutes, not moving. At least it’s not the middle of February.
We hit the road. The instructor deliberately practices using monotone commands at home, I’m sure of now. “At the next light, turn left…After you make the stop, turn right…When attempting to avoid a head-on collision, what must you do?..” Imagine Ben Stein in the Visine commercials. Sonny Boy did just fine getting onto the highway, making his turns (not swinging too far over/near the other lanes), but he was nervous. Boy! could I tell he was nervous. As he progressed through the road test I started to notice all the things he was doing wrong– things I knew he knew how to do properly, but just wasn’t. “He’s going to choke! He’s going to fail!! His bad mood will totally ruin MY day–crap!” I almost thought of sending a text message to my husband: “He’s choking; start praying”, but decided not to, in case Sonny Boy would hear the buttons clicking on my phone. I didn’t want to make him any more tense than he already was.
I’m not sure how many points are on a driver’s road test, but the driver is only allowed 25 negative points (mistakes) and still be allowed to pass. At 26 and beyond, you fail. I told him earlier that we would pay for this one, but if he failed he would have to pay for any and all re-tests. Toward the end I could see that he knew he was on thin ice. For a kid whose tendency leans toward perfectionism, and self-defeatism it was hard to guess what he would do. Would he try harder to prove he was actually a good driver, or throw in the towel, and just scrap the whole thing? If we had been on the road much longer I think the self-defeatist would have won out. He did pass– but barely– with 25 points off. I was advised to reconsider letting him get his driver’s license that day so he could get more road time in to practice. I thought about it for about 5 seconds. I also think that ‘near miss’ to failure knocked the over-confidence out of him.
He’s a good driver. If you know my Sonny Boy personally, you know he’s a young man of good character, a little impetuous, and loads of energy, but all-in-all, a pretty good kid. I’m not saying this just to sound like Rain Man (“He’s a really good driver”.) His girlfriend’s father won’t let her get into a car with him just for the sake of joy-riding. They have to be going somewhere, with a purpose to it.
I hit a parenting milestone today, too. I let him take the car to go run an errand to use a gift card he got over the holidays before it expired. He said he wouldn’t be gone long. After an hour, I was starting to think: ‘Okay, it’s been an hour, he should be home soon. I’m glad he has his cell phone so I can call if I need to.’ Then good sense prevailed. I reminded myself he was headed to Best Buy and had to drive up one of the busiest retail streets in town, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, get his stuff in a store he loves to wander in and then come back home on the same busy street. Mentally, I decided to give him another half an hour, then I’d call. If he answered while he was driving, I’d have to yell at him for talking while driving. He was in the driveway about two minutes after this whole thing ran through my head.
Later, I gave him the keys and sent him to the grocery store to go get some stuff we needed for dinner. I didn’t panic, hyperventilate, and worry the whole time. But after dinner I was ready to work up a really good *mad* because he was gone and so was the car and he didn’t clear it with me. Turns out he talked to his dad about that one, and had to run his girlfriend home for some reason or other. Good thing she lives less than half a mile away.
He moved toward the next phase of independence, that first, faraway step to adulthood. I let him go and didn’t even cry; milestones indeed.