There is something very interesting that happens when you teach your teenage child how to drive: you develop a phantom brake in your right leg when you are sitting in the passenger seat. In some part of your brain, you know this brake isn’t real, but it still makes you feel in control, so there’s that.
You also develop a new respiratory issue that sounds like this: gasp-oh-you’re-OK, gasp-oh-you’re-OK, gasp and repeat. This disorder is not dangerous, but it does recur with each new driver. There is no known cure.
Another feature of this stage is you may see a surge in your perception of ingenuity. Like: “It’s not a good time to drive; it’s dark.” “It’s raining.” “It’s snowing.” People, it’s Cleveland. It will always be dark, raining or snowing. But you feel very smart about outsmarting your teen and wiggling out of the responsibility. You go ahead and wait for a perfectly sunny, calm, light and dry day. Your child will then be 42. By the time you get in your 50 hours, he will be 52.
We are driving with our 15-year-old. It’s our fifth rodeo, so none of this is new. But each child is different. This one happens to be quite a cautious and responsible specimen. It’s the 2003 model and she’s doing well. Yet, that has no bearing on the fright I feel each time a new driver embarks on the path.
When this kid was a baby, we had a stroller called “Baby Jeep.” It had big tires and a fake steering wheel at the front. She enjoyed “steering” the stroller as we pushed from behind. A lot of the fun was due to the fake sense of control this yellow plastic steering wheel gave her. She turned right, but the stroller turned left; yet she felt completely empowered by that thing.
How the tables have turned. I slam on my phantom brake because it makes me feel good but it has no bearing on reality. I alternately gasp and breathe, which means absolutely nothing for the trajectory of the car.
Either way, this story is about a false and delusional sense of control.
We want so badly to be in control in this life. We want to manage the things we should: our finances, our health and our relationships. But then we also want to manage all the things we have no control over – other people, places and things. We latch on to these external markers of fake control – our little yellow plastic steering wheels. We tell others what to do, we raise a ruckus, we post on social media.
But emotional maturity happens when we begin to experience a dawning of knowledge. Awareness about what we are and aren’t in control of. Learning which steering wheels are plastic and which are real. Indulging in the phantom brake even while laughing at ourselves. Relinquishing control to the next generation, because didn’t we ourselves learn to drive once upon a time?
I learned to drive in 1990, in a very large maroon Chevy Astro van. It was called “the new van.” We called it that for 10 years. I don’t know who thought it was a good car for a new driver, but I figured it out and became the (arguably) excellent driver I remain today.
So, we pass the torch to the next generation. And gasp, we learn to breathe.
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