Rights of passage vary wildly around the world.  Jewish boys have Bar Mitzvahs at age 13.  Brazilian Amazon boys coming of age wear gloves made of ant stingers for 10 minutes.  Last year in Miami, my wife and I got to see 15-year-old Hispanic girls all made up in their festive, colorful dresses in celebration of their Quinceanera.  

For the Schillingers, right of passage occurs at age 16, the year of the driver’s license.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea to put a teenager behind the wheel of a 2000-pound metal object hurtling down highways at high speed.  As a teen, I once put a car head-first into a ditch while driving a French foreign exchange student.  It was her first night in Iowa, a memorable if not terrifying introduction to Iowa gravel roads.

The state of Iowa has this rule that teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 drive with a proviso.  If a teen is issued two speeding violations, his license is temporarily suspended.  This happened to our 17-year-old son Joel.  He got caught 10 mph over the limit twice–once on an obscure back street and then later as he was driving to his grandparents for Thanksgiving.  As a result, Joel had to relinquish his driving privileges for a month.

At first, my wife and I saw this as a major inconvenience.  Joel is a busy guy–besides going to school every day, he’s a member of a dance choir, has a job at a local movie theater, and is in the school play.  We love the school he attends, but it’s 25 minutes from our home.  The theater is 15 minutes away, and he works late hours on weekends.  That’s a lot of driving for aging parents whose bedtimes are getting earlier and earlier.

Yet, as with many things in life, this inconvenient little curse was a really blessing in disguise. The Saturday after he lost his license, Joel rode with me as I did errands. What a happy day!  We have always been tight, but since he’s been driving on his own, I don’t often get the pleasure of his presence.  People who interact with Joel tell me what a delightful person he is.  I agree, and sometimes I wish I could experience his delightfulness more often.  Soon he’ll be going off to college. I already feel the pangs of separation. Having him in my car that day was a thrill for my sentimental heart.

One thing I love about my children is that every time I drive them, they say “thank you” when we arrive.  They’ve done that as long as I can remember.  Joel is no exception.  It’s almost second nature to them, but I still like it.  It makes the shuttling job so much easier.

Last Saturday, I drove my daughter, Sarah to her job at Fareway.  She’s worked there for nearly two years, and for the most part, Michele and I have been her primary means of transportation.  But on this particular drive, it hit me that this was the last time she would need a ride.  She’s turning 16 this Thursday, and will soon have her license–and the freedom to come and go as she pleases.  I’m sure there are plenty of late-night study parties at Perkins in her future.

Isn’t it funny how an otherwise inconsequential milestone like driving age can so radically impact your relationship with your child?  With Sarah, we had a routine–we could count on 10 minutes of face-time two or three times a week–a good time to catch up, exchange pleasantries, and “check in”.  Next week, all that will be gone.  Unless Michele and I intentionally walk down the hall and knock on her door, we will lose those little touch points.

It’s not all bad that kids grow up and start driving.  They need to be independent.  They are growing into adults. It would be weird if I drove Joel to school and work the rest of his life.  But unsuspecting parents need to keep their heads up for those key milestones in life and make the most of the times they spend driving their kids to things.  It’s precious time, time you can’t reclaim.  Enjoy those fleeting moments while you can.  

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