Editor’s note: Because I Said So is a new monthly column exploring the highs, lows and in-betweens of parenting children of all ages in Central Oregon. This is not an expert guide or self-help tool. Rather, it’s a somewhat humorous look at the challenges and rewards of raising today’s children.
The DMV is a stressful place to go. That tension ratchets up — at least for two people — when a parent accompanies a teenage child into the office to get driving credentials.
The pair walk into the office, silent. The teen takes a spot in line to test for a driver’s license or learner’s permit. The parent folds into a hard plastic chair to wait.
Both are thinking of the freedom that’s around the corner.
But the parents, who commiserate wordlessly with each other through rueful head shakes and bug-eyed help me glances, are also terrified about what comes next: their child at the wheel of 2-ton machine.
A parent’s memory is still fresh from the road traveled to get their child ready for the DMV visit. Bickering over how much to study for the written test. Squabbles over when and how often the newly-minted driver-in-training should get behind the wheel and practice. Accusations that mom/dad overreacted when they said/shouted/screamed “STOP!” as the driver-in-training careened through an intersection, barely missing the vehicle with the right-of-way.
To be fair, teaching a teen to drive in Central Oregon has its benefits, such as fewer congested streets and easier navigation than larger cities. But counter that with the plethora of roundabouts and bicyclists. Not to mention the numerous dogs trotting along a street’s shoulder next to their owner’s bicycle.
Whose knuckles are whiter as the teen driver maneuvers through a roundabout while simultaneously avoiding other cars, indicating correctly, scanning for pedestrians and sharing the road with bicyclists? It’s a toss-up. And then, just for giggles, add snow and ice into the mix.
(Note to self: Inquire about blood pressure medication at next doctor’s visit and start a PTDSD (Post Teen Driver Stress Disorder) support group.)
Surprisingly, the teen might also have a lesson or two for the parent. Moms and dads fancy themselves experts after decades of driving and (fairly) clean records. But when a driver’s ed instructor recently asked the student drivers to demonstrate their parents’ typical driving style, the responses were both hilarious and sobering. The kids variously pantomimed driving with one hand on the wheel while texting with the other, applying makeup, steering with a knee, fiddling with the navigation system or radio and making rude gestures at other drivers.
With the new awareness of safe driving practices, teens will (rightly) call you out each and every time you roll through a stop sign or glance at your phone while driving. Apparently, we experts need to clean up our act a bit if we want to be role models when it comes to driving. Parents may also discover some driving rules have changed. Who knew we were no longer supposed to hold the wheel at the clock equivalent of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.? That orientation could cost you a finger or worse if your airbags deploy. New rule: Hold the wheel at 3 and 9 p.m. and use a push-pull motion rather than hand-over-hand to turn the wheel.
Parents learn a few things. Teens start to get the hang of driving. Being in the car together no longer makes adrenaline levels spike. Then it hits you head on. Your child gets their driver license and your world tilts on its axis — again. You panic as your teen drives off alone for the first time. You consider selling a kidney on the black market to pay your increased auto insurance rates. And that’s after the discounts have been credited for good grades or passing the driver education course. If you have a son, you may have to consider selling more than one internal organ. The rates are higher for teen boys than their female counterparts.
The bright side: Your child has completed an important rite of passage into adulthood. Your son or daughter can taxi themself to and fro. You now know which blood pressure medications to ask for, and the contacts for a teen driving support group are in your cell phone if you need to teach another child to drive.
— Kim Himstreet is the 40-something mother of two teenage boys whom she and her husband have raised while living in three different countries and three U.S. states.