One of the big rites of passage here in the US is teaching your teenager to drive. Here in the Midwest, kids get their learning permit at 15, and can officially get their license and begin to drive at 16 – much too young, as many of you will agree. However, there is nothing much you can do about it, since the kid is often champing at the bit, raring to go, and with no public transport to speak of, driving is the only way they can become independent. Everyone is doing it, all my friends are driving, etc etc – and so you have no choice but to bow down to the inevitable. There is no way to outsource this training – driving lessons are expensive, and the law demands that only the parent or grandparent or licensed instructor should train the young driver, who should have a minimum 40 hours of driving before he/she can apply for a license.
And so the day dawns when an excited teenager hops into the driver’s seat and you slide into the passenger one, anxiously instructing your teen who doesn’t seem to be listening to a word you say. He puts the car into gear and off he goes, jerkily at first but slowly getting into the rhythm. Learning the skill of driving comes easily to this generation, prepared as they have been by simulated video games and by playing several sports in school – the motor coordination seems almost effortless. But the other aspect of driving – judgement and good road etiquette – takes longer. The power of the car under their hands is intoxicating, and I constantly have to nag him about being careful.
My son learns quickly, and soon it is time for his driving test. He is nervous and excited, and we go to the driving test center together. I see him walk to the car with the tester, and they turn the corner and are out of sight, while I fidget a bit and wait for him to come back. The waiting room is quiet although several parents are waiting. We don’t see our kids drive back – they park behind the building and go straight to another room with the tester. Some kids walk in dejectedly, having failed the test; others bound in grinning maniacally, waving their certificates in the air at their parents. Luckily, my son is the latter section, and I grin to see him so excited. We go straight to the license bureau, and in half an hour, he is the proud bearer of a driving license.