“CAUTION: STUDENT DRIVER…and screaming parent” said the bumper sticker on the car in front of me as I drove to work. I chuckled to myself. Very apt, given that my daughter passed her road test over the weekend and is a proud young lady. She has passed a rite of passage and she now feels that she has all the freedom in the world, freed from the shackles of her parents. And yes, it is one step closer to adulthood.
We started our driving lessons in an empty parking lot. The car moved in fits and starts and meandered around a bit. All she saw was an empty parking lot, but I saw intersections and stop signs, careless motorists and jaywalking pedestrians. I would give her instructions and make her stop every now and then and would go over what I felt she had done wrong. It must have been frustrating for her but to her credit, she stuck it out, I guess she felt that this was a necessary evil to be endured.
Her first drive home from the parking lot was a nerve-wracking experience for me and an exhilarating adventure for her. I sat with my foot constantly pressed on an imaginary brake, my hands, white-knuckled, clutching the door handle. Occasionally, as a truck barreled towards us in the opposite lane, I would offer a steadying hand at the wheel. As we pulled into our driveway, I heaved a sigh of relief, while she, beaming, asked if we could repeat the drive.
Of course, she had already gone through 40 hours of theory at the driving school. She then signed up for drivings, where brave instructors did not seem to mind handing over the steering wheel to wet behind the ears teenagers. We soon realized that the best way to get her going was for her to drive on the roads. It proved to be an interesting experience. My daughter, who rarely talks to me in the car and answers in monosyllables, opened up and initiated conversations about school, debate competitions and college applications. Perhaps, being in control of the steering wheel, she felt that she was on level terms with me. I also widened my music horizons by listening to Drake, Bebe Rexha, The Chainsmokers and other artists. I may not listen to them on my own volition but at a recent conference party, some of the tunes sounded distinctly familiar to me. I also listened to her without interrupting to state my opinions or offer life lessons at every opportunity.
Driving in the empty parking lot is an apt metaphor for life. As a worried parent, I see hidden dangers and pitfalls, some real and some imagined. My daughter just sees life for what it is. In a few months, she will fly the coop, heading off to college. I will not be there to offer a steadying hand and will be left pressing imaginary brakes, hoping she will stay safe. I think she will be okay though, she has practiced well and it is good that she sees a life full of promises and opportunities. The empty parking lot is in many ways akin to a university where she will navigate around new experiences before she drives onto the highway of her life. I can caution her and offer advice, but she is at the wheel as she forges ahead. And who knows, I guess a time will come when the bumper sticker on my car could very well say “CAUTION: ELDERLY DRIVER …and screaming daughter”!