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Drive On

Oh, the tears, the tears.

How hard it was to hold them back and keep from blubbering inconsolably at the thought of it, the sight of it, the realization that our little baby girl had finally reached the official, verifiable, legally-able-to-drive age of sixteen.

With barely a wave to us through the car windshield, she slowly backed out of the driveway for the first time. She turned the wheel, slid into gear, and we drew a breath as we considered how, from that day forward, her life would be permanently, irreversibly, in “drive.”

Yes, there we were, bearing witness to one more auspicious family milestone, and we sniffled as we watched the car begin to roll down the street, leaving only the faint smell of exhaust in its wake.

And then, all at once, Lucy was gone, off and away into the waiting world beyond.

Her mother and I turned, and paused, and looked over our shoulders one last time.

Then we let out a whoop you could hear up and down the block.

Yes! The day we had waited so long for had finally arrived.

Oh, I know this should have been a time to be sentimental. And being the caring, loving, responsible parents we are, I suppose we could have spent more than thirty seconds wondering if she’d be safe out there on the open road.

But those tears we supposedly wept were crocodile tears at best – an Oscar-worthy act designed to impress upon our girl that talking, texting, and summoning Spotify while driving are definite no-no’s.

The truth is, we had been counting down the days until our precious angel was fully vested by the power and authority of the commonwealth to operate a motor vehicle.

Why? Because we are done. Cooked, fried, frazzled, burnt out, and running so low on gas that the little needle on the fuel gauge is so far past “E,” we are probably only five minutes away from needing a tow truck.

For a decade and a half, it has been our never-ending duty to ferry our two children from point to point, place to place, and pillar to post. And in the spirit of parental duty and family togetherness, we have looked upon our job all these years with kind eyes and glad hearts.

But the older our kids got, the more places they needed to be, and these past few years have turned our daily lives into a real-life version of the people-mover at Disney World: an endless daily transport loop from the house to dance, soccer, play practice, Boy Scouts, Chipotle, Forever 21, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and all the way home again.

So forgive us if we are not mourning the days of pulling into the driveway with hunched backs and dead eyes. Instead, we now delight in the joys of cold calculation and the delicious promise of servitude.

And now, with her freshly minted license issued by the DMV, Lucy is only too happy to oblige. She needs to be at school for dance auditions? Now she can drive herself. Friends are meeting to hang out at Starbucks? Here are the keys. She’d rather not have her coworkers see Mom and Dad drop her off at the pool for lifeguard duty? Fine. Go ahead. Take the car.

Her license to drive has also brought unexpected détente with her younger brother. She is only too happy to ferry him to Cook Out so he can buy his favorite milkshake, just as long as he pays for it with his own cash.

Best of all, Lucy is still so enamored with life behind the wheel that she doesn’t mind doing the shopping and errand-running that has consumed every hour of our lives up until now. She’s happy to pick up the dry cleaning. She can take this set of unused linens back to the store. We could use another bag of self-lighting charcoal for the barbeque grill. All this and so much more. Our wish is her command. Now I can get back to what I was doing. In 2005.

I do admit to worrying a bit about someone who has to jam the driver’s seat so far forward to see over the dashboard that it looks like the car has already been in an accident. Months ago, as her primary driving instructor, I thought a nearby cemetery, with its rolling hills and gently curving roadways, might be the safest place to teach her the finer points. And she couldn’t kill anyone because everyone there is already dead.

But Lucy has been a pretty good driver from the get-go – much better than I was back in my own knucklehead days. She can quote obscure roadway laws and rules, and constantly points out road signs I’ve either forgotten or never knew existed in the first place. Yes, it is true that the front corner of the car has already suffered scrapes from parallel-parking attempts gone bad, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m on a first-name basis with more than one claims agent.

But that’s a small price to pay for the services we get in return. My pals with older kids tell me that the thrill of serving as our very own Amazon delivery service will wear off eventually. Once driving turns from a lark into a grind, she’ll get wise to our ways, and soon we’ll find ourselves fronting her a few bucks here and there for gas, which will turn into regular forms of bribery, which will only end when we finally break down and add a third car to the insurance policy.

But until that day comes, we will wring our hands, wax nostalgic, warn her in the gravest tones to be careful, and remind her that operating a multi-ton miracle of combustion and technology is not a “right” but a “privilege,” as my old high school driver’s ed teacher used to say.

Also: We could use some more chocolate-chip ice cream.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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