August 1, 2014

my 16 year old driver

OK, OK, I admit it.  I like to be in control.  I wouldn't classify myself as a control freak though.  No one ever accused me of being bossy as a kid.  I appreciate input, and therefore I still like to bounce ideas off of a good friend, a parent, or even Coach.  I don't believe that I have all of the answers, but I like to have a plan that makes sense.  Order makes me happy, but when it comes to housework I tend to be pretty lackadaisical until the place resembles a recently ran-sacked home broken into by a desperate junkie on a made for TV movie.  I guess when it comes to parenting, control is more of an issue.  Isn't that the case with most parents?

Maybe some parents accept relinquishing control better than I do.  I attribute my recently, self-diagnosed control -issue in large part to the fact that two of our children are teenagers, and the youngest just completed kindergarten.  It's difficult to linger with one foot in the teen world of hormones, attitudes, and bad complexions, especially while the other foot is still dealing with attempted early bedtimes, play dates, and reading practice.  Two feet straddling two different parental roles is enough to make me lose balance, because while my feet are in a wide stance I still have to juggle a variety of balls.  And my crew constantly throws things at me . . figuratively speaking of course (cue the circus music).

Time to test my ability to not be in complete control. . . driver's ed, permits, and a driver's license.  Laddie earned his driving permit last year.  He took drivers ed over the summer.  We allowed him to drive, but admittedly found it tough to get him behind the wheel.   Opportunities to drive were limited by which car was available.  The large white van, that seats 12 (similar to a painter's van - except ours has windows), was not an excellent learning vehicle.  Too big!  Our eleven year old minivan served as a decent option.  This was the car Laddie practiced on, but we typically had to wait until the back seats weren't brimming over with siblings.  Not unlawful, but too distracting - also not the safest situation to throw the younger set into.  Chicago's unrelenting winter produced an additional road block.  There weren't many days when the streets were free of snow and ice.  We limited our own driving in that sketchy weather, and certainly didn't encourage his.  Finally, Laddie's busy school and sports schedule left little time to drive around.  By the time his sports practices ended, there was little time to take the car out for a spin.  Eating and homework were priorities - unfortunately, in that order. 

How could Coach and I be old enough to have our oldest turn 16 in June?  We informed Laddie in advance of his birthday, that trying for his license wouldn't be part of his sweet 16th.  He needed more practice.  He agreed, and we tried to step up his behind the wheel time.  We noticed progress.  After talking to other parents with driving kids, it became clear that no parent ever believes that their kid is ready to drive solo.  We weren't alone.

As the time approached for Laddie to be driving on his own, we bought another car.  Nothing to get overly excited about.  Another minivan.  This one cherry red.  The dealer actually teased us about not expressing excitement about test driving a new car.  I pointed at a Land Rover across the lot and vowed to one day return and show some excitement when I climbed behind the wheel for that test drive.  We explained to Laddie that while the blue minivan (bearing rust marks, loads of wear and tear, but certified safe to drive) would be available for him to drive, he would never be allowed to refer to it as his car.  Just to be clear. 

As one of his final assessments, we decided that he would need to drive on the expressway.  I drove separately to an away swim meet so that we could check this goal off of our driver-in-training checklist.  It worked out great.  Coach left with the little folks in the 'Great White'.  Laddie and I buckled into the old navy minivan.  He took a right out of the neighborhood, took the next right on to the expressway, and exited a few miles later without ever a lane change, bumper to bumper traffic, or an additional issue cropping up.  Too easy.  This proved nothing.  A few weeks ago, we had two cars at Coach's sister's house after a family get together.  Coach let Danny drive home in the dark, on the expressway, for 30 minutes.  I drove home at the same time with the rest of the gang in our newly purchased third car.  After a bit, I chose to pass Laddie.  I begged the kids not to wave at him or distract him in anyway.  All appeared to be going well.  I just couldn't watch.  Coach gave him two thumbs up.  Yeah.  One step closer. 

Scheduling a time to test proved challenging.  Laddie is currently on a two week break from football.  Perfect.  He caddies most days, but the course is closed on Mondays.  The DMV is also closed on Mondays.  Freakishly, I had no children home on Tuesday afternoon.  Play dates galore.  Laddie came home from caddying, and we drove 20 minutes to the DMV.  He drove there.  I delivered a little pep talk.  Mirrors - use them.  Blinker - use them.  Hug the corner more in your turns.  We were driving home sooner than anticipated because I failed to do my homework.  He needed his birth certificate, his social security card, and a proof of address.  I misunderstood another mom who told me that they brought nothing with them on their recent visit to the DMV.  Her daughter had lost her permit.  Forgot the proof of insurance.  Still got a license.  She must have had the birth certificate, etc.  I assumed that since Laddie had his permit, which he was awarded after showing his birth certificate, etc. the year before that we were good.  It was a frustrating afternoon.

Second attempt.  I purposely left my reusable water bottle in the car this time.  The day before I was told no food or beverages were allowed in the facility.  Not water?  Unamerican.  I expected to be parked in the waiting area all afternoon, but without the correct documents that wasn't the case anyway.  All paperwork checked out.  Laddie expressed how nervous he was, especially about the written exam.  Discovered that there was no written exam, since that is administered when the kid gets a permit.  Sweet.  I watched him pull out of the parking spot with the instructor in the car next to him.  I stayed outside and waited for them to return.  I smiled at him as he got out of the car.  I gave him a thumbs up.  He shook his head.  I didn't believe him.  He insisted that he didn't pass.  Disbelief.  I kept waiting for him to crack up.  Wasn't happening.  I followed the test lady inside.  She made some markings on his paperwork and tossed it in a bin.  Laddie kept mumbling something about 'dangerous actions'.  The ladies behind the counter picked up his paperwork when I inquired and read thru her comments.  He didn't signal when he pulled out of an uphill parking spot.  He didn't look when he pulled out of the spot either.  She was uncomfortable with his right hand turn on red because of the oncoming traffic.  He wasn't interested in driving home this time.  I drove.  He stewed. 

Third attempt.  I awoke at 5:20 am this morning.  Went for a run.  Started removing clutter from the counter tops.  Shuffling shoes back into the frequently bypassed mudroom.  Ate breakfast.  I woke Laddie up just before I jumped into the shower.  'Let's do this.'  I wanted to be there by 8.  I drove.  He ate his bowl of cereal in the passenger seat.  We reviewed previous mistakes.  Arranged the paperwork in his lap.  Pulled up.  He jumped out and got in line.  I parked.  8:05.  The man behind the counter asked him who tested him the day before.  Computers don't lie, they knew about the failed attempt.  He assured Laddie he wanted to give him a different tester.  Phew.  Dodged that bullet.    I assumed my familiar place on the sidewalk.  Watched him pull away.  Now my nerves were acting up.  I hoped that I wouldn't have to run in and find a bathroom.  A 16 year old girl had left for her test 5 minutes ahead of Danny.  Why was he returning so soon?  The girl that was ahead of him still wasn't back yet.  Uh oh.  I watched as the test lady spoke to him from the passenger seat.  Her hands flailed.  No.  Can't be.  Laddie got out of the car.  Big smile.  What a relief.

As much as I don't think I'm prepared for him to drive, I wanted him to be able to do this.  The lady had a few pointers.  She must be a hand talker.  Simple explanation.  Not sure why the chick ahead of him returned 5 minutes AFTER him.  Longer route?  He closed his eyes in the first two attempts for the infamous drivers license picture . . . family trait on his father's side . . . choosing wedding photos was a challenge.  He finally posed for a photo that turned out like someone was taping his eyes open, can't say I would've blamed them if they had.  We were out of there.  I drove home.

I called to add him to our insurance.  That hurt.  $1300 for 6 months.  They suggested we drop the collision coverage.  It makes sense because if anything happens to that heap, we won't be investing much in it anyway.  That would save us more than $100 a month.  Still.  Ouch.  One down, five to go! 


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