So, the question from the 14-year-old was this: It’s Valentine’s Day and my boyfriend just got his license so can he pick me up and drive me to dinner?
The automatic, parenting-from-the-hip response was an easy “No.” And it didn’t matter much that Kaylie’s beau is a nice kid with good parents who’s probably done all the due diligence associate with driving. It’s still very early in his driving career, there’s a lot of snow and ice on the roads, and it’s teen-boy nature to show off a little in the car.
And then all those dreadful statistics pop into mind; the ones that say auto accidents are the leading cause of death among adolescents. As a parent, it wouldn’t be hard to make a cogent, logical case that teenagers should never drive, that 25 is a better licensing age and that boys should perhaps wait until they’re 30.
The other piece of the decision-making tree on this topic is recalling my own experiences. In my Long Island town in the 1970s, the coolest cars were Firebirds and Camaros – overpowered vehicles driven by guys named Vinny and Whitey and Velani. They had custom Hurst shifters, a roach clip dangling from the rear-view mirror, overflowing ash trays and, likely as not, a six-pack of Bud in the back seat. Led Zeppelin pounded from a pair of home stereo speakers jammed in the trunk, and thrilled passengers sat pinned by the G-forces created by a 454 motor as “Immigrant Song” took years off our eardrums.
But that only happened a few times, in reality. Mostly I got rides from my sister’s boyfriend George, who drove – and I am not making this up – his grandmother’s black Ford Granada that had, horror of horrors, only an AM radio. George, under penalty of death of having the car privileges revoked (same thing, really), drove like someone with a bomb in the trunk that would go off at the slightest bump or engine rev.
But when my sweet little girl – who just last week, it seems, was playing with her Polly Pockets — comes up to me with the car-boyfriend request, it’s not Cautious George in the Granada I see. It’s Vinny in the Camaro.
Ultimately, we revised our decision to say she could go, but only if it wasn’t snowing, only if they drove to a restaurant within 2 miles of home, and only if she called us every 47 seconds with an update on where they were, what they were doing, the weather, the road conditions and the latest on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks (having NPR on in the car, I figured, would be the closest thing to the anti-aphrodisiac all parents crave).
We were heroes for a moment, until we found out the young man’s parents had trumped our call by declaring a girlfriend-in-the-car moratorium altogether. Not a bad choice, in my view, and they did us the favor of moving themselves onto the teen poop list – and lord knows we’ve been there enough lately as it is.
On the other side of the aisle is our 16-year-old boy, who seems to regard driving as a curious, expensive thing he doesn’t want much to do with yet. He is aided in this stance by having a driving girlfriend, as well as my insistence that, if he wants to drive the family cars, he has to get a job and help with the insurance costs. This is roughly the equivalent of telling him he can only drive if he wears a chicken suit, so disagreeable is the prospect of getting a job and “wasting” money on insurance.
So be it. There will be plenty of years of driving in the future. In the meantime, the buses work fine and we still grudgingly drive them hither and yon. And, although it may not be quite the same in the minivan, we can still play a little Led Zeppelin now and again.