The problem with kids getting their driver’s license at age 16 is that it coincides with the exact time teenagers believe they know everything. It’s positively maddening to try to teach my son to drive when the answer to everything I say is “I know.”
Actually, my son’s version is “I got this.” While he still just had his learner’s permit and I had to be in the car with him, he’d be driving and I’d say, “hey, you really don’t want to pull out in front of that speeding 18-wheeler.”
“I got this, mom.”
“Hey, you might want to take that curve a little slower,” as I peeled myself off the passenger-side window.
“I got this.”
Made me crazy! Finally one day I had had enough and snapped, “no, you do not have this. Quit saying that.”
And in a flash, he was next to tears. “No, mom, I don’t have this.” And he went on to tell me someone had said something mean to him at lunch and he felt like a complete loser.
After that, so did I. That’s the thing about teenagers. There really is something abnormal about their brains. In the span of five minutes they can go from the most brilliant and fabulous being on the planet to a crying, self-loathing nobody. It’s exhausting.
I try to tell my son high school doesn’t matter. You just have to get through it. You’ll meet your real friends in college. You don’t need a girlfriend now. But I know my words of wisdom fall on deaf ears.
In an attempt to be more empathetic, I try to flash back to my own teenage days when a stray look from one of the mean girls could send me into an emotional tailspin. To how my heart leapt when I saw my crush in the hall, only to sink miserably when he didn’t even acknowledge I was alive. But unfortunately the miles life has put on me prevent me from truly sympathizing with what he’s experiencing now. As much as I can remember how awful high school can be, I can’t stop myself from thinking I can somehow keep him from feeling this pain. That he will listen to me when I tell him he’s amazing and wonderful and cute and the girls will appreciate him someday and all this nonsense shouldn’t bother him.
So there you are, your heart about to break for your beloved child and BAM… he cranks up the radio in the car and nearly runs a stop sign and you’re ready to kill him again. I think it’s nature’s way of forcing you to let him go. Three years ago I watched his little blue dot on my phone walk four blocks home from middle school while breathing in the proverbial paper bag. And in a couple of years from now, I’m not going to think twice about letting him live in a rickety off-campus mobile home with three guys I’ve never met. And I’m going to pay to let him do it.
Trust me, this mysterious transformation from overprotective to relatively ambivalent happens faster than you think.
The driving really is one of the major turning points. For a year, you’ve had to ride in the car beside him, gripping the door handle and slamming on your imaginary brake. He won’t be ready to drive when he gets his license. He needs more practice. I cannot possibly let him drive off on his own. But then you do, and everything is okay. And the next time it gets easier. So you’re relieved. Then he gets cocky about driving and that familiar combination of worry and irritation returns.
“I got this,” he said as he walked out of the stadium. We’d been at a track meet and it was dark by the time it ended. The car was parked about a quarter-mile away and with everyone leaving at the same time, the parking lot was a madhouse.
He wanted to go get the car and drive back to pick me up. “Okay,” I said, “but this parking lot is a mess. Be very careful.”
“I got this,” he assured me.
So I waited and then watched as he pulled up to the curb. Elbow casually hanging out the driver’s side window, driving with one hand, radio on, just as cool as they come. I got in the car and we drove off into the dark night.
“See mom, I told you I’ve got this.”
“Great honey,” I said, “but you might want to turn on your lights.”