My 16-year-old grandson, Andrew, just received his driver's permit. This means that another teenager will soon be gracing our roads. While this is considered worthy of recognition, the rest of us -- his parents and I -- approach this milestone with trepidation and the realization that life is moving by much too quickly.
His sister Caroline, 15, thinks it's all so "cool." She has become Andrew's staunch ally, anticipating the day when she, too, can get behind the wheel of a car and drive us to distraction.
Andrew is a great kid. Caroline, equally so. But greatness aside, driving a car is an act that evokes such anxiety that driver's permits should include therapy sessions for parents and grandparents to get them through the ordeal.
Andrew waves his permit at me as a constant reminder of this potentially death-defying feat. Despite the fact that he hasn't cleaned his room since the Clinton administration, he's appropriately proud, and congratulations are in order. And so I pass along kudos with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. He has, after all, passed the test and has plastic proof of his accomplishment.
But I am frightened, not only because he will soon be on the road with maniacal drivers and substance abusers, but because the world these kids are facing is even more dangerous and challenging than what they will encounter in the driver's seat. And we, who have little control over protecting them, suddenly feel overly protective.
If it were up to me, I would shield my grandchildren from the pervasive destruction in a world run amok. I would step in and remove them from irrational predators, insane terrorists, and unexpected bomb explosions intent on killing off not only innocent victims, but our spirits as well. I would whisk my kids off to places that guarantee their safekeeping. But I can't. At best, I can only offer my own experiences as blueprints to those of a different generation vastly removed from mine.
In spite of us, children grow up, and for better and for worse, we can only hope that somewhere along the way, a nugget of our excessive ranting will have sunk in, and steered them in the right direction.
My hope is that by the time Andrew gets his license, and is officially deemed worthy of operating a vehicle, the rules will sink in: That he will pause at stop signs and approach yellow lights not as an invitation to race ahead, but to linger for a moment, heeding my cliche warning: "Better safe than sorry."
I am counting on the fact that his newly acquired status will teach him responsibility and patience -- that he won't be in such a hurry to race through life when he doesn't yet understand the importance of slowing down. I want to tell him that these are the years to savor -- to rein himself in, rather than propel himself forward at breakneck speed, and that maneuvering a steering wheel warrants more insurance than what air bags can provide. He will be road-tested beyond his wildest imagination.
When my shaky sanity is being tested by the image of a grandson in a car, it is then I need to get a grip on reality, imagining him making wise decisions as he navigates along bumpy roads, seat belt attached, his vision clear, hands steady and instincts well intact.
For now, however, the heady excitement of owning a driver's permit is all that matters. He's a typically normal and engaging -- if sometimes cocky -- adolescent, who now has the goods to prove his worth. For a while, he needs to luxuriate in his newly acquired sense of achievement: That he has made the grade as a full-fledged member of the Big Boys club. And I, a minor player in this scenario, have become the target of his amusement as he pushes his permit in my face, assuring me he's got it all under control.
"Look," Andrew taunts me, whipping out the plastic card with his photo ID, more to provoke than to show off. "Need a ride?"
"Not quite yet," I tell him. "But I am impressed. I'm looking forward to having you drive me around town."
"In style," he tells me. "I'll be your personal chauffeur."
Dare I mention that the mere thought is driving me just a little bit crazy?