Slowly Put the Car in ‘Drive’

speedlimitCameron moved the driver’s seat up so close to the wheel that I thought she was going to steer with her mouth. A petite girl – she gets thrown around like a rag doll as a flyer on her high school cheer squad – she didn’t look like the little girl I’ve called my own since the time she was knee-high to a wastebasket.

After checking her mirrors, she slowly shifted the gear in drive and planted her right foot on the brake almost as soon as she felt the weight of the SUV pull forward, causing us to rock back and forth for a brief second. And after a short deep breath, she released her foot from the brake again and we made our way onto an empty Sunday road…

There was a glow about her that had nothing to do with the sunrise. It was the coming of age feeling a teen gets when she knows that Driver’s Ed classes are right around the corner, that more independence is just a few exits away on the life road we all travel.

For me, well, I was scared out of my mind. Or to borrow a phrase from Cameron’s generation, I was trippin’ balls. How can a guy like me be showing another person how to drive when from a mental standpoint I’m still a kid? Mostly.

Case in point I: My friends and I go to great lengths to prank and humiliate the living shit out of each other. Just last night, my brother, Steven, had me take a shirt back for him at a department store and told me I could get something for myself or just keep the refund for my trouble.

“The receipt’s in the bag, dude.”

Stupid me for not checking the bag but when I showed up at the service desk, the lady behind the counter pulled out a grungy t-shirt and kindly pointed out that “we do not carry a dirty laundry line here.”

Genius, Steve.

Case in point II: My sophomore year in college when, for some reason, I went nearly the entire Fall semester without so much as a “hello” from the opposite sex. I later found out that my best friend Mack placed a rainbow sticker on the back of my car, that bastard.

Cameron drove on, basking in the right of passage that is learning to drive as the horrible thought of a news story about some high school hockey punks from Minnesota skated through my head. Apparently the boys allegedly decided it would be cool to make a sex tape featuring some underage classmates of theirs. In the story, a hockey parent is quoted as saying “Boys will be boys,” followed by some other rant that did nothing to remove the stereotype created by the movie Fargo, that people living in the upper Midwest have IQ’s that match their ages (don’t ‘cha know?).

In an almost surreal way that hockey sex tape story made any of my lame juvenile exploits seem mature. What little solace I took in that reflection vanished. Maybe I’m not all that bad but the fact still remains: There are boys that make sex tapes in high school! You bet your ass I’m going to help teach her how to drive. And at the same time I’ll help her steer clear of some of life’s big speed bumps, like cheering her up when some lame guy doesn’t call back or when the jealous snob on the cheerleading team talks smack. I can help her drive around the bullshit games people like to play by making her more aware of her surroundings, kind of like looking through a side mirror.

“You know, baby, the sweetest thing about being a parent is watching your kids grow up,” I told her once.

“What’s the hardest?” she asked.

“Watching your kids grow up,” I said.

What I meant was that parents, no matter how old their kids get, always want to look out and protect their children – even when they are no longer babies. For some of us, letting go is difficult. For me, our little driving lesson was yet another reminder how quickly the road of parenthood can change.

And with teenagers and toddlers running my household, it’s good to know that there’ll be one more driver in the house able to drop me off at the nearest shrink’s office if and when I should need therapy.

Because it’s not exactly walking distance from my place.

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