My left hand is killing me. No, it’s not a flare up of carpal tunnel syndrome. I didn’t punch a wall or accidentally slam my hand in the door jamb. My hand is aching from the hour-long DEATH GRIP I had on my car’s parking brake. You see, I just finished with my son’s third hour of supervised driving time since earning his driver’s permit. (Only 47 more hours to go. That’s 2,820 minutes I must survive inside a two-ton moving vehicle piloted by my offspring, God willing.)
I’m aware that millions of teens and their anxious parent have made it through this developmental milestone with nothing worse than a Maalox addiction. Millions more will have their turns after me. And while I recognize my experience white-knuckling the dashboard is more mundane than unique, I’m equally aware of how singularly each individual develops, acquires skills, assimilates information — independent of those around him.
My son and his friends are learning, practicing life skills necessary for navigating their (suburban) world. Our culture, despite occasional public outcry to the contrary, has maintained for decades that adolescence is the appropriate time to learn how to operate a motor vehicle. Who am I to contest years of legal, scientific and anthropological data? Yet…I know my child. I know the pace at which he processes information, the way he thinks abut complex issues, his judgement skills. And, in this contained steel and glass “laboratory” headed down our neighborhood streets, I see the many ways my son’s mind and body have yet to catch up with his chronological age. Before sitting behind the wheel, my son was “positive” he’d be a “great” driver. He was certain he’d ace his permit test. He predicted he’d be anxiety-free in rush hour traffic. Wrong. Wrong. And WRONG.
People grow in fits and starts, in sometimes unpredictable ways, and through sometimes surprising circumstances. I’ve learned a person can develop a deep and abiding faith in a higher power while not understanding how to make change for a dollar. I’ve seen how empathy for another’s pain doesn’t necessarily come accompanied by a grasp of the concept of natural consequences. I’ve heard my son belly laugh at cartoons only later to find him, weeping, as he read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Some people display pseudo-maturity that is a byproduct of extreme intelligence or surviving trauma that can fool us into believing they comprehend realities that are truly beyond their grasps.
I can’t predict how quickly or broadly my child will develop in his driving skills after the next 47 (PLUS!!) hours of practice. And I don’t know if I’ll decide to enforce a longer-term practice period than the law mandates. But I do know I’ve deepened my understanding of how mysteriously and uniquely we grow and change. There’s no formula, no yardstick that fits us all. And that’s ok. a cookie-cutter world would be colorless and bland. I need to gauge my child — and myself — by standards that are clear-sighted and helpful to our movement forward. And maybe let my wife take over “drive time” now and then. My parking brake will thank me.