A PARENT-TEENAGER ODYSSEY ON FOUR WHEELS
By Carmen Greger
The cacophony of teenage life has a unique rhythm – the flurry of social media notifications, the highs and lows of adolescence, and that unsettling, yet exciting moment of shifting into the driver’s seat and strapping in for the first time.
Being a teenager is a thrilling and dizzying journey that reminds me of a famous quote by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Indeed, the path towards adulting is a road not yet taken, and what better metaphor to illustrate this journey than the art of learning to drive?
When a teenager clutches those car keys for the first time, that jingle is the symphony of freedom. The ignition revs up not just the vehicle, but also the teenager’s sense of independence. Simultaneously, in the passenger seat, there’s a parent clutching the armrest, mustering a brave smile, letting out a deep sigh, and invoking all the deities they can remember.
Picture this – a bright and sunny day, the local high school parking lot is full of juniors and seniors, not for an impromptu football game, but for the great driving practice. Cars are moving at the speed of a lethargic snail, and if you listen closely, you can hear the symphony of honks, usually followed by a friendly wave or an enthusiastic thumbs-up. It’s a chaotic dance that reflects the innocence of this life stage, a rite of passage that stitches the fabric of teenhood.
Now, imagine the somewhat humorous fumbles that often occur when a teenager confronts the vehicle’s complexities. One memorable incident that makes me smile when I reflect, was when my son, in his valiant attempt to signal a left turn, inadvertently switched on the windshield wipers, leading to a bout of windshield washing in bright sunshine and some anxiety releasing giggles from both of us. Just at that moment, the gas light chimed on, requesting due attention. A quick detour to the gas station had him slightly puzzled – not knowing which side the gas tank was on, how to open it, or how to pump gas – turning it into an impromptu puzzle-solving exercise. Mission accomplished.
However, this journey is more than just about navigating roads; it’s also about merging into adulthood and navigating life. Each road sign, each detour, and every decision to make a right turn or a left is a metaphor for life’s choices. As Willie Nelson famously crooned, ‘On the Road Again’, it’s the journey, not the destination, that shapes us.
One such poignant moment is the unceremonious ousting of the parent from the driver’s seat as soon as a teenager with a fresh permit hops in. Like it or not, it’s time to hand over the keys, slide into the passenger seat and resign to backseat driving. There’s no turning back now – red light, yellow light, green light, go!
The high-octane drama of parallel parking, three-point turns and mastering the ability to pilot using only rear and side view mirrors while reversing might seem like the heart-racing climax in an action thriller for the parent riding shotgun. But in the end, as the dust settles and the vehicle stands perfectly parallel parked, it’s a victorious moment etched in time. It’s akin to mastering life skills – a little clumsy at first, but one eventually gets the hang of it.
This journey, filled with fear, anxiety, silly anecdotes, and valuable lessons, has a silver lining – the bonding between a parent and child and memories that last a lifetime. The vehicle morphs into a cocoon where life-altering conversations occur. Discussions about roadmaps, not just for the town, but for life, take place. Stories are shared, music taste is debated, and, more often than not, shared silence turns into understanding.
This roller-coaster ride, despite its erratic turns and bumps, is a crucial pitstop in a teenager’s life. It’s like Robert Frost’s road not yet taken, where every turn, every pothole, every red, yellow, and green light presents an opportunity to learn and grow.
But let’s not forget the critical role of parents in this journey. It’s the parents, after all, who give the “green light,” guiding their child through the labyrinth of traffic rules and life principles. It’s the parents who patiently endure the numerous practice sessions in the high school parking lot, graciously dealing with the misfired turn signals, windshield wiper debacles, and the ever-daunting task of merging into the fast lane of highway traffic or simply pumping gas. These experiences are nerve-wracking, yet they present opportunities for parents to impart wisdom, establish trust, and even share a few laughs.
Yes, being relegated to the passenger seat is not always comfortable, but it’s a rite of passage that parents must go through. And believe it or not, the joy of seeing your child navigate successfully through the streets and life’s tricky lanes is indescribable. Sure, the journey might be full of detours, roadblocks, and unexpected stop signs. But when the keys are finally handed over, and your child begins to steer their life journey, it all seems worth it.
Learning to drive is like a crash course in life. It teaches you to keep your eyes on the road, stay patient at the red lights, slow down at the yellows, and go forth with determination when the green lights shine. It’s a real-world lesson on how to navigate through the maze of choices and challenges that life often presents.
Just as your teenager learns to check the rearview mirror while reversing out of a space, they are also subtly learning about reflecting on past decisions and how to back out of a situation that isn’t right for them. It’s a subtle reminder that looking back helps us move forward more confidently.
As you embark on this driving journey with your teenager, keep in mind that it’s not just about getting them ready to hit the road. It’s about equipping them with the skills they need to navigate life. It’s about helping them understand the significance of the “roads not yet taken,” encouraging them to make choices, and teaching them how to steer their lives in the direction they want.
In the grand scheme of things, driving is more than just controlling a vehicle; it’s about controlling one’s destiny. As you navigate through this nerve-wracking, hilarious, tedious, and beautiful journey, remember to enjoy the ride. After all, it’s the shared experiences and heartwarming memories that make this journey truly unforgettable.
You’ll be ‘On the Road Again’, and again, only now, it’ll be your child behind the wheel. So buckle up and embrace the opportunities and obstacles with patience, perseverance, pride and perspective; Enjoy the ride, because these are the memorable moments that truly drive us crazy, in the most affectionate way possible!