Driven to Insanity

After spending hundreds of dollars on a Driver’s Training course and surviving the required 50+ hours driving with parents, my son recently passed his driver’s test and became a card-carrying member of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Which for teenagers is the height of awesomeness.

Subsequent to his passing this test, I became a card-carrying member of the Insane Moms Club.

As a public service, I’ve written a guide to keeping yourself busy during this stressful time when it comes up in your life.

You’re welcome.

How to Pass the Time While your Child is Out Driving Alone for the First Time
or
Is It Happy Hour Yet?

When your newly-licensed child asks to take the car out alone for the first time, smile and say, “Certainly! How fun that will be!” while the contents of your stomach begin a slow ascent towards your throat.

After handing over the keys remind him to drive safely, use his seat belt, and watch the speed limits. Force another smile and wave goodbye while biting the inside of your cheek to stop the tears.

And to stop the scream that’s forming deep in your chest from escaping your mouth.

Stand discretely by the frosted window at the front door, where he can’t see you watch him as he pulls away. Make a mental note to comment on how nicely he backed out of the driveway without hitting anyone or anything.

Say a prayer, clutch your rosary beads, consult the Magic 8 Ball, or whatever else you think may secure his safe return.

Wander aimlessly into his room and sit down on his bed. Wonder where the time went, then wonder why his socks don’t always make it into the hamper. Decide not to spend much time in this particular part of the house.

Decide to take your spice rack alphabetizing to a whole new level and alphabetize the spices in the pantry as well. Distract yourself with a rousing self-discussion on how to alphabetize the different salts properly and whether or not to include Epsom with Kosher, Garlic, and Sea.

Distract yourself with odd jobs you never have time for. Like trying to get all those crumbs out of the cracks on the kitchen table. Or trimming small bits of carpet that stick up higher than the others.

Sit at the kitchen table (which happens to face the driveway) and pretend to be busy blogging.

When pretending to blog doesn’t work, turn to Twitter for solace of other moms.

Remember that most Twitter moms you know have little kids and you’ve just given them something else to worry about in advance. Log off Twitter.

Start wondering how long it would take for the police to call you if he’d been in an accident.

Check for a dial tone on the phone to make sure it’s actually working.

Try not to panic when the phone actually rings, and the first thing you hear is, “Hi, this is Steve Anderson with the Cal….” and you’re pretty sure he will say California Highway Patrol. But he doesn’t. (this actually happened: he was calling from the Cal Poly Pomona admissions office. Whew).

Once your heart stops beating 167 beats per minute, check the time again and realize that he’s almost due home. Notice that it’s also getting dark, and mutter something aloud about turning on the headlights at dusk and reciting the vehicle code that mandates that.

Shuffle around the pile of mail on the counter. Sort it at least seven different ways (size? alphabetically? smell?) while continuing to casually look out the front window at the empty driveway.

When the car appears in the driveway and isn’t being pulled by a tow truck, move away from the window and seat yourself on the couch. Grab a book, wipe the sweat from your forehead, and pretend to be relaxing.

When teenager finally comes through the front door, smile and say, “Hi Honey! Did you have fun?” while wondering if it’s too early for a glass of wine.

Repeat as many times as necessary until you get used to the fact that he’s really driving.

Alone.

What?!

I remember a time when we couldn’t wait to hear our little guy talk. Actually talk, say some real words that we might be able to understand. We could have conversations, teach him things, and tell knock-knock jokes. Baby Babble is cute, but we looked forward to a time when he could finally carry on a conversation.

Our days were filled with words only a mother could understand. While the incoherent snippets of speech were cute, when darling little sentences started drooling out of his mouth we thought we were making forward progress. We can communicate with the alien!

Now we are back to babble. We’ve come full circle in 16 years of parenting.

He does actually talk. And although he does speak some pretty mean German, the bulk of what he says at home is supposedly in English.

We just don’t understand it.

One reason is that acronyms have taken over the language of the young, and if you can’t keep up with them you are SOL (I will say this is “so out of luck” for my readers who prefer I have a clean mouth). Throw in a few twists like quotes from movies we’ve never seen and references to books we’ve never read and our dinner conversations seem like a throw-back to baby babble times. With a deeper voice.

Added to this problem is the fact that he is very much into science and is taking three science classes this term. Hubs and I were business majors in college. Even if we had been science majors, I think the whole field has changed since back then. Those science dudes just keep discovering new stuff. Or making it up.

So much of what he tells us about his school day is cloaked in Forensic-speak or Physio-babble.

We still ask him what he did in school while we are eating dinner. But while he’s spewing science words and phrases (we think he makes half of them up), we politely nod and look interested. More acronyms, a few words that we remember from watching the whole glove scene in the OJ Simpson trial, and a hypothesis for his independent research project. More nodding, maybe an “I see” thrown in for brownie points.

The overwhelming sound of “duh” fills the air as he waits for some sort of question or comment from us.

Then we turn our attention to our daughter, asking about her day. How hard can it be to understand 7th grade?

OMG (that’s like “wow”)….did you know Pluto isn’t a planet anymore?

Exit Interview

I sit waiting in the small room, my portfolio lying on the desk in front of me. It seems decent enough, filled with pictures and art work, certificates and ribbons. I wonder if there was anything else I should have included that would make a difference. I guess it’s too late now.

Maybe some sort of bribe would help.

I wonder if there’s an ATM nearby.

I feel awkward in my fancy skirt, blouse, and pumps; they look like a Catholic school uniform all grown up. I should have worn the same clothes I’ve worn on the job site all these years. There was never a complaint, unless you count that unfortunate clogs-with-skinny jeans incident.

At least nobody took pictures.

The door swings open and the interviewer glides into the room, taking the seat across from me. She wears beautiful clothes, flashy jewelry, and not a hair is out of place. Her nails are impeccably manicured without a chip in sight. Her shoes match, she looks rested, and she has no spit/mud/coffee/rice cereal/zit cream stains on her clothes.

Why did I have to get the one interviewer who can’t possibly relate to my job?

“Good morning, my name is Miss Dopportunity, and I will be interviewing you today.” She looks down at the stack of papers she has taken out of my file. “So, I see here that you are nearing the end of your current position as Mother to a High Schooler. My paperwork states that you were on the fast-track, climbing rather quickly through the ranks of Mother of an Infant to Preschool Mother and PTA Mom.”

“Well…,” I stammer, “if you can correct that in the paperwork please, I never requested to be on the fast-track. I really wanted to master each position before being promoted to the next.”

She chuckles quietly, glancing up at me for a moment before regaining her perfect composure. “There really is no “other” track for this career. True, some of those early days may have actually seemed longer than 24 hours, but in reality the whole career path moves at lightning speed.” She rifles through the papers a bit more and makes a few notes on them, then fixes her gaze on my portfolio. “Let’s have a look at what you’ve brought here today.”

I quickly open the large folder, anxious to show her the fruits of my labor (and delivery). There are baby footprints inked at the hospital, a lock of newborn hair too fragile to handle. Lost teeth, certificates for library summer programs, report cards, and class pictures. Paintings, crayon drawings, necklaces made of dried pasta. Letters from grandparents loved and lost, newspaper clippings, baseball team pictures, autographs of famous people, and movie ticket stubs.

Random reminders of a childhood that slipped through my fingers.

Junk, really. To any other human being who isn’t a mother.

I wonder what she’ll think of the job I did as she sifts through the things with efficiency and tact. I want her to be careful with them, but I hesitate to say anything for fear of sounding rude. Then again, with those fancy fingernails, she might damage something.

Or break a nail.

She stops thumbing through my things and pulls out her notes.

“Now then, I have a few questions to ask you. These are standard questions at this point in your career, but your answers might determine your exit strategy so please think carefully before you answer.”

A tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak leaves my lips. I hope she didn’t hear it.

“Did you let him play in the rain? Catch tadpoles at the creek? Did he see museums and movies, plays and magic shows? Was he allowed to get dirty, taste the snow, wade into the freezing cold surf, bury his sister in the sand?”

“Was he taught to be kind, to think of others? Does he have a pet? Did you make his home a soft place for him to land when he falls? To read? To relax? Chase a dream, develop a passion?”

“Were there scraped knees, bloody noses, toothless grins in Christmas card pictures? Did you tell him about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, only to have to come clean later? Did you help him dig to China in the sandbox? Make a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones? Fingerpaint in the house?”

“Did you ever just sit and watch a herd of cows graze, hang out in the backyard hoping to see a shooting star, look for owls, go fishing at dusk or hike an incredible hike? Was he ever allowed to spend the day in his jammies, eat ice cream for dinner or just sleep until noon?”

“Did you enforce the rules, dole out punishments, make him apologize, send him to his room? Did he have to make amends, write thank-you notes, remember to say “please” and be nice to teachers?”

“Can he tie his own shoes, pack a suitcase, use a payphone, schedule an appointment, brush his teeth, make his bed, keep track of his own money, build a campfire, open a small carton of milk, mow the lawn, pump himself on the swing, ride a bike?”

She pauses here, giving me a chance to take it all in. I am so nervous, feeling that there must have been something that I overlooked, one or two major steps along the way that I neglected to take. I nod my head, maybe a bit too tentatively, and wait for her to pepper me with more questions.

“Well then, it seems that everything is in order. You still have some time remaining in your current position, but I am recommending that you be considered a candidate for the next level, Mother to a Young Adult. I will forward the paperwork sometime in the next few months.”

I am stunned. Shouldn’t there be more questions to ask?

Maybe a lie-detector test?

“That’s it, that’s all you need from me? Are you sure? How can you really know that I’ve done my job well enough to move on? How will I really ever know? Is there a salary increase with this new level? What about vacation pay? Does this skirt make my butt look big? How do we really know that Humpty Dumpty was an egg?”

She stands up and smoothes out her skirt, pushing her chair back in as she heads for the door. As she reaches the door she stops, turns, and looks me in the eye. “This career is what you make of it. There are no right and no wrong answers. What you do with it is your choice. Once you are promoted to the next level, there is no going back. The hours can be pretty crappy, the pay is lousy, and your insubordinates can be, well, insubordinate. But don’t get me wrong; this is a lifetime career. The positions may change along the way, but you will always be employed.”

She walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her. I slowly gather my treasures and put them back into the file folders, ready to return them to the drawer at home. No ribbons or certificates for me here today, not even a candy bar or a pat on the back. But I do a little happy-dance, just because I can. The rewards of motherhood are immeasurable, and can’t be compensated with cash, prizes or chocolate. I will never know for sure if I did a good job, but I do know that I did my best.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve earned that promotion.

Driving Miss Crazy

little tikes cozy coupeThere are so many milestones in childhood that come and go, usually with great fanfare (at least when it’s YOUR kid).  First smile, first steps, first time on a bike, first day at school… these are all met with smiles, video cameras, phone calls to Grandma and notations in the baby book.

We celebrate each new step towards independence too.  That first day at school starts a whole string of “firsts” that slowly push them out into the world without 24/7 supervision.  I enjoyed each of these in their own time, snapping pictures and crossing them off my mental mommy list.

And then he got his learner’s permit.

At first this sounded like wonderful mother/son bonding.  We’ll be in the car for 50 hours of practice time!  We can laugh and talk, just like when he was younger!

And then we went out for the first time.

My perceptions of how close the curb is, how close we are to cars parked on the side of the road and how closely we are passing the cars in the oncoming lanes are VERY different when I am the passenger and my son is driving.  I try to remain calm (“Honey, watch for that stop sign ahead.”) when on the inside I am not (“STOP!  THE LIGHT IS RED!  WATCH OUT FOR THE CAT!”).  Being the control freak that I am, I find myself looking for something to do with my hands, since I can’t grab the wheel or use the turn signals.  I try to keep them folded in my lap, but my inner urge to survive kicks in and I have to grab the door panel.

At times, this has been before we have even left the driveway.

There are so many things about driving that become second nature after a few years.  I can drive anywhere in town that I need to go while at the same time memorizing my grocery list and listening to talk radio.  I don’t have to think about the rules at a four-way stop or that I need to yield to oncoming traffic when making a left turn on green.  I just do it.  Now I have to think about the rules, and the whole outing becomes a complete recitation of the DMV Driver’s Handbook.

This isn’t the mother/son chatting I was envisioning.

There are quiet moments while we are out, when I am sure my son is breathing a sigh of relief (She finally shut up!).  These are times when we are on a long stretch of road, with no stop signs, lane changes or crosswalks.  Even then, I think there should be something I could point out (“The bumps in the middle of the road are called Botts’ Dots.” or “Did you know it would take us 11 hours to drive to Vegas?”).

We still have many hours to practice before the final exam for his license.  My son?  He’s doing great with the driving.

It’s his mother who needs some more practice.