Driver's Ed Certainly is an Education for Me!

Exactly when did my oldest son decide to grow up, and how did I almost miss it?

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.

Elaine Lane October 15, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Sniff, sniff.............I know what you mean, Jeff. My "baby" is 25, and I'm still not over it! Great writing, BTW.
Martha Hanna October 15, 2012 at 12:02 PM
I don't know why the kids are so strange. Getting a DL in HS meant FREEDOM!! Cranking WLS on the AM/FM, driving past a boys house, driving to school, driving to work. Hanging at Big Boy's on Ogden Ave...going to the library to study. NOT! All I know is that when I talk to parents with younger kids I tell them have fun, enjoy your kids everything is good, nothing to worry about, nothing until they get that DL and start driving.
Jeff Ward October 15, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Elaine, It's good that he's growing, but isn't it amazing you all of the sudden notice it!
Jeff Ward October 15, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Martha, I just don't understand how driving has become no big thing! Jeff
Rosie October 15, 2012 at 04:34 PM
My son is weeks away from his 16th Bday..He still has at least half of his hours to get in and he is in not hurry..In my house why drive yourself when you have 2 parents at your beck and call to tote you everywhere you need to go:) I do not remember my parents driving me anywhere. If I could not ride my bike or walk I was not going!!! How times have changes!!
Jeff Ward October 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Rosie, We told my son if he wants to take more classes at Waubonsee he will have to drive himself! Jeff
Patrick Sennett October 15, 2012 at 07:28 PM
When we were kids, there wasn't a mall in every town and a McDonalds every mile down the road. It was a haul to go from Brookfield to Oak Brook Center or (for a special treat) Cermak Plaza all the way over in Berwyn. A family had one car if they were lucky. Kids today have two things we didn't have - the internet, and mostly two-car households. And 600 channels of cable. And everything else.
Jeff Ward October 15, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Patrick, Are we going to agree again in the same three month period? Perhaps either or both of us should looking into consulting a licensed therapist. Jeff
Patrick Sennett October 15, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Don't let it go to your head. I'm just being genial.
Patrick Sennett October 15, 2012 at 08:22 PM
And the only licensed therapist I know just de-friended me on Facebook. {sad trombone}
Jeff Ward October 15, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Patrick, Go to my head? Now I'm questioning everything I've ever believed in! Jeff
Max October 15, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Bleep! A 2d good Opinion column in the same month, Jeff. Way to go! Max (who was driving surreptitiously well before the legal age. Kids today....)
Arthur Dietrich October 16, 2012 at 01:30 AM
I didn't have the opportunity to teach my son how to drive, however, I taught him how to drive with a manual transmission. Dramamine comes in real handy.
Lou Pierce October 16, 2012 at 05:48 AM
When I was helping my younger son meet his required hours of driving practice, I actually reveled in it. I survived that and I later helped him learn to use a manual transmission (which I required both of my kids to learn, because it's a skill everyone should have--you never know when you'll need to use it), remembering both times how useless I had felt nine years earlier. When he wanted to learn to ride his bike, I was unable to help him as I had helped his older brother. I just didn't have the strength due to the 9-month course of chemo-therapy I was undergoing at the time. This assault on my sense of obligation to my son led me into therapy where I had such a sense of failure and shame that I almost couldn't get the words out to explain my feelings to the therapist. So, yes Jeff, I agree with you that driving is a rite of passage not only for our surprisingly grown-up children, it's also one for us. But, there are others, too. If we're lucky, we get to experience all of them. They help to make the whole mind-boggling experience of child-rearing so worthwhile despite the often lampooned tribulations that accompany it as well.


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