Whether you’re prepared for it or not, the day will come when you look your eldest son or daughter squarely in the eye only to exclaim, “Holy bleep! You’re not a kid anymore, are you? When the heck did that happen?”
I’m nothing if not sentimental.
The only thing we can’t say for sure is what specific life event will mark that passage. Some say it’s strolling through those hallowed GHS halls. Our Jewish brethren believe it’s the bar or bat mitzvah. Others say it’s the day they leave for college.
As for me, I ascribe to Subaru’s notion. Remember that commercial with the little girl buckling up as her concerned father offers some final instruction through the passenger side window? When the camera pans back to the front seat you suddenly see his grown-up daughter.
After presiding over my 15-year-old son’s first driving lesson, I just couldn’t look at him quite the same way again. Ain’t it funny how the gentle familiarity that makes change so difficult to detect can be so cruelly washed away like silver leaves blown before a northwest winter wind.
But there I was precariously perched in that unfamiliar Honda passenger seat in the Commons parking lot at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. And when I saw my son firmly ensconced behind that black steering wheel, it all came flying back to me.
Going out for a driving lesson with my mother was a lot like going on a call with the bomb squad. One false move she’d go off. By the time I got my license, there was a perfect imprint of her right foot in that Ford Country Squire floorboard.
My father, on the other hand, believed that a baptism of fire couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.
While in that very same station wagon at a red light on Cicero and Peterson on Chicago, a Corvette pulled alongside us. After he and the driver exchanged glances, my father turned to me and said, “When it turns green—floor it!”
“But dad," I said, “I only have a permit.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “If we get caught, we’ll switch seats.”
Thankfully, with us a mere half car-length ahead, the Corvette gave up at 80. You see, back in 1974, a Ford Country Squire had a ridiculous 410-cubic-inch engine that made it competitive with anything they could put on the street.
Suddenly the Edens Expressway wasn’t quite as intimdating.
“Note to self,” I thought. “There has to be a happy medium. This is not the time to be either one of your parents.”
So as we tooled around the virtually vacant mall, he did all right. He needs to work on his turn timing, exactly where to stop at a stop sign, and I’m trying to get him to understand that it’s best not to put your father through the windshield when you hit the brake pedal.
But after about 10 minutes, he said, “Dad, can we go home?”
“Just pull into that parking place and back out,” I said. “And we’ll be done.”
Which brings us to another interesting point. Today’s kid doesn’t seem all that interested in driving.
When I was 15, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel. I’d even endure my mother’s imponderable anxiety just to get a crack a McCormick Boulevard, that Evanston/Skokie border straight-away that was the source of many tall tales.
My best high school grades came the year I got my driver's license. There’s nothing like holding a 3.8 GPA over your parents’ heads.
But my son’s generation? They don’t give a you-know-what about whether they ever learn to drive or not.
Is it that automobiles simply can’t match the speed of the digital age? Is it that so many options are available at the flip of a smartphone switch? Or could it be that today’s semi-ecological vehicles just don’t inspire the imagination that a Ford Country Squire did?
If, dear readers, you have an explanation for this particular phenomenon, I’m all ears.
What I can tell you is this. As sure as those fall leaves are descending one by one from the firmament onto terra firma, my oldest son is growing up. And I’m thrilled, terrified and sad, all at the same time.
The thing is, when he started taking drivers ed, no one told me I’d have to grow up, too.