I have experienced the liberation of loco-motion. Never again will I be shackled by the chains of immobility.
As far as rights of passage go, I incurred mine late, well into my 16th year. Didn’t enroll in drivers ed. Delayed on the take-home papers. Went to take the permit test for the first time, and was sent home because of an unacceptable birth certificate copy. Went to take the test for the second time, and failed (seems a $3,5000 surety bond is valid insurance in California). When I finally received my Minor’s Provisional Permit, I danced out the door of the DMV.
Had I known what was in store I may not have so enthusiastically tangoed around the parking lot. Something about the prospect of my driving turned two, perfectly sane, perfectly stable parents into anxious, easily excitable yellers.
Perhaps it was my sense of direction—or lack thereof. Maybe my hand-eye coordination—or lack thereof. Whatever it was, it kept mom and dad on their toes and on my back the six-month duration of behind-the-wheel training.
Car approaches stop sign. Car stops at stop sign. Mother yells, “Stop!”
“I know!” I say, “I’ve stopped already.” Lecture ensues. Gray hairs, it seems, are growing on her head as we speak.
Father grips the sides of his seat with sweaty palms and utters incoherent prayers as I make my way around the parking lot. The deserted parking lot. At 5 miles an hour. (Though to his credit he remains conscious when I hit my first tree.)
And yet we survived, as parents and teens generally do. My first lane change. My first nighttime drive. My first drive in the rain. My first freeway excursion. And when I received my driver’s license, I was all jubilation. Never had such rapture been wrapped up in a poorly printed half sheet of paper. I grabbed hold of that half sheet and strutted to the car, a satisfied grin on my face. Got in the car, started driving with the hand brake on and ran over the curb in the process of switching it off. But I had my license. Mission accomplished. Congratulations to me.
The weekend after I got my license I made three trips to the grocery store.
I crowed when asked for a driver’s license to confirm my library card renewal.
Now when I drive myself to school, I leave home when I want to. I don’t respond to the honking of the carpool horn. I don’t apologize when I’m late getting back to the car after an appointment. I don’t feel guilty when I’ve left soda shopping for a club potluck until late Sunday evening. And I don’t hesitate to indulge my cravings for coconut flavored Jelly Bellies while I’m doing my calculus homework.
Because I take myself to the grocery store. I take myself.
I’m not the first. On conversing with the New York City cousins, I realized how late we suburbanites are to strike out on our own. They responded amusedly to my tale of newfound independence: “Ooh, pulling up to high school in your own car. How SUBURBAN!”
And it is, isn’t it? Fighting for parking spaces at school, cruising tract-home lined streets with music pumping and windows rolled down, chatting on cell phones at stop lights, all part of the suburban teenage phenomenon, celebration of the freedom we experience after years of mini-vanning and carpooling and riding the bus to school. Our childhood paralysis lies in marked contrast to the motility that belongs to the urbanite from preschool onward. We are the laughingstock of their ranks.
But now that I’ve tasted freedom, I wouldn’t trade immobility for all the navigable street blocks in the world. Minutes, hours at times, in the car with my parents have proved some of the most significant bonding moments in our relationship. The half hour to school, every morning with the carpool, as I’d inflict on my mother my oftentimes terrible musical taste. Sometimes the songs would grow on her; she’d learn to sing along, make up her own words. The drive back from dance class, late nights before my arangetram, my father and I would share anecdotes and aspirations. We became closer on those drives, over that summer.
My mother’s uniquely long-winded yell of exasperation that frequently obscured the radio sounds when we were late for school. The fact that no matter what was on her mind, the minute I sat in the car she’d ask me to comb my hair. My father’s annoyance at being asked to change radio stations after every song. My continual overuse of the seat-warmers in his car. Fighting with my brother for the front seat on our way to piano class. And without fail, managing to block the right side-view mirror every time one of my parents needed to turn.
Now when I drive to school, I leave home when I want to, but I leave alone. I don’t respond to the honking of the carpool horn, but radio sounds fall solely on my ears (it’s not as much fun to lip-sync in solitude). I don’t apologize when I’m late getting back to the car after an appointment, but try as I might, I don’t hear my mother’s reassuringly familiar shout of exasperation. And yes I take myself, but I’m by myself the duration of the journey.
My parents were once my chauffeurs on the journey. Ushering me from class to class, and from year to year in the process. I grew only as they allowed me to grow, went only where they allowed me to go. Now they have relinquished that responsibility and adopted another; they are my companions on the journey, allowing me to travel where I will, providing directions when I ask. And as I drive off into my future, I am grateful that my parents have shown me the way.