The Parent Trap
Facing teen driving with fear and eagerness.
Every day we get inside two-ton boxes of steel and drive at speeds of 40-, 50-, 60-miles per hour, often inches away from two-ton boxes of steel coming toward us just as fast.
We do it rain, shine, sleet or snow. We do this knowing that some of the people in the other cars are texting, talking on the phone, drunk or just careless, and that a tiny mistake in judgment can lead to tragedy.
And we look at those who choose NOT to drive as the odd ones.
So why am I partly looking forward to the day my almost-16-year-old son can get behind the wheel?
Ten years ago I would have said the driving age should be 30. But as my kids’ school, sports and other activities have increased, so has my willingness to give up the job of indentured chauffeur. I don’t much like driving and yet sometimes it feels as if my main role in life is shuttling kids to this game or that play rehearsal.
It’s a common refrain among parents of teenagers who are often separated from their friends and schools by busy roads and suburban sprawl.
Jackie and Anthony Guerrero of Lower Macungie Township are old hands at the teen driving thing. They took turns teaching their son Anthony – now a West Point cadet -- how to drive.
“I started teaching him and then after we had an incident when he almost took out some cars, then Anthony started teaching him,” Jackie told me. Young Anthony insisted he learned the most while serving in the Army in Iraq, where the roads have even more potholes than Pennsylvania roads, if you can imagine that.
The Guerreros’ elder daughter, Jazmine, has had it in for a couple of parked cars but never – she makes clear – a moving one. A Lehigh Carbon Community College student, Jazmine said she never had to be convinced that driving is dangerous: “For the first year I didn’t go over 40.”
Their youngest, Maribel, an Emmaus High School junior, got some practice for her license by using a rider mower to cut their lawn. Maribel acknowledges it didn’t help with skills like merging. “I don’t have to cut off other lawn mowers,” she said dryly.
Her parents said it’s especially frightening to see young people texting or talking on the phone when they’re behind the wheel – distractions our generation didn’t have to deal with as young drivers. “Our biggest thing was how loud was our radio,” the elder Anthony, who is a vice principal at Northeast Middle School in Bethlehem, pointed out.
They still feel a sense of unease when the kids are out late with the car. “It is scary because when they go out, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jackie said. She and her husband wait to hear the door slam before they can breathe a sigh of relief.
That fear was brought home to me this week with Salisbury Patch Editor Wendy Solomon’s story of a Salisbury Township teen who was seriously injured in an accident Friday night while driving home from working at the Red Robin in Upper Saucon Township. Lisa Young, mother of 17-year-old Greg Young, told Solomon that her son was saved by some passing motorists and has a long recovery ahead. May it be as quick as possible.
Such news rekindles old fears as my older son gets ready to go for his learner’s permit. But there is also something less tangible. Our lives are so busy that at times the drives are the only chance we have to really talk. Some of our best conversations take place on the road where we are each other’s captive audience. I won’t miss the schlepping but I will miss his company.
As my son moves toward self-sufficiency, he moves away from me.