Thursday, August 20, 2009


For weeks I've been putting my daughter in the driver's seat of the car, trying to make sure she got enough practice to pass her driving test. Yesterday, she passed it. And she promptly handed me the keys to the car. "Now that I can drive, I don't have to drive," she said.

My daughter and I are alike in many ways; this is not one of them. I couldn't wait to drive. I was at the DMV on my 16th birthday, eager to get my license and gain my freedom. As I said here, I grew up on the top of a hill, with no way to get anywhere unless Mom or Dad (usually Mom) drove me. Getting a driver's license was like being handed a round-the-world plane ticket. Except that I had to ask Mom for the keys to the plane.

I went to high school across town, and most of my friends were a half-hour drive away. So I'd swoop along Sunset Boulevard in my mom's Datsun, blasting Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend" or David Bowie's "Cracked Actor" on the eight-track, windows wide open so as to clear out the cigarette smoke (sorry, Mom; the truth comes out). It was exhilarating, especially late at night, right up until the moment when I opened the front door of my house and found my mother, in her bathrobe, waiting for me in the living room, furious with anxiety.

Now, a little late, I have all kinds of empathy for my mother. The thought of sending my child out onto L.A.'s autobahn streets is almost paralyzing. Fortunately or unfortunately, it's not going to come up much.

She just turned 18 and two weeks from today will be moving into her college dorm on the other side of the country. She wanted a driver's license "in case of emergencies" and to have a photo ID, but she never really felt the need to drive. She spent four years using the L.A. bus system, even once navigating it to get to a friend's house in Glendale, a three-bus, two-hour one-way trip. (Yes, I picked her up afterwards.) That kind of adventure gave her the same feeling of independence that I couldn't achieve until I drove my mom's car. And then there's the fact that much of her socializing took place online. Who needed to go anywhere?

Not that she wasn't ecstatic about passing the driving test, and on her first attempt. She, who is always cool about everything and eats standardized tests for breakfast, was truly nervous about this one. She gritted her teeth and performed the Wallace shake—the one we've named after the twitchy little gesture of fear in Nick Park's wonderful "Wallace and Gromit" claymation films: elbows at your side, forearms raised, knuckles clenched, jittery waving back and forth of hands.

Yesterday, when she and the inspector drove back into the DMV parking lot and got out of the car, I held my breath until she caught my eye and gave a little smile and a thumbs-up. We high-fived in the DMV parking lot, and again at Baskin-Robbins, and again at Trader Joe's, where we bought the ingredients for her victory dinner (requested menu: tacos and artichokes).

As we drove (rather, as I drove) we rolled down the windows and blasted the CD she calls her "Hilarrible Mix"—lots of guilty-pleasure music like Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne.

When we got home, I discovered we were out of butter. "Want to take the keys and run to the store?" I asked her. She widened her eyes a bit and shook her head. She lay down and took a nap.

"Congratulations, she's a very good driver," the kindly driving inspector had said to me. "Now she's not a little girl anymore. You have to let her go."

Or not.


marsha miller said...

Well, Susan, after spending a glorious morning beach walking and breakfasting with both of my sons, first thing I did upon coming home just now was to check your blog. I guess that makes me a certifiable groopy. Congrats to Annie for her DMV achievement!

Karen said...

1. I got my license as soon as I could too, but then found I had nowhere to go because I'd never paid attention all those years I'd been driven around.
2. LOVE the "Wallace shake." I do it all the time.

Irene nelson said...

I guess I am a grOOpy too! Once again, I am touched by your story. I also couldn't wait to get my license- that's how we all were. It seems common that kids today do not feel the desire to experience their independence in the same way. My son finally did get his license, but prefers to ride his bike everywhere (yes, when not online). This is both dangerous and a good thing for many obvious reasons. Either way, I practice being calm. Sounds like you and your daughter appreciate each other and have interesting food preferences!

Lola said...

Congrats to yr daughter on her DMV success. I recall the thrill - and heady sense of freedom - I experienced when I got mine years ago in LA! Without a car, life in LA was so difficult then; the bus system was a huge challenge - probably no better now!

Hope you're having a great week.


PS Thanks for your message!

NancyF said...

Congratulations to your daughter on this rite of passage! I know a lot of people in their teens and twenties who feel no urgency to drive. Some of them are hyperaware of the environmental consequences; others are so used to being driven by their parents that they don't see the point of self-sufficiency.

Myself, I grew up in L.A. and got my license at 16, as did all my friends. (This was back in the era of compulsory driver training in school; driving was considered a survival skill, like swimming and cooking.) But I was given the keys only to chauffeur my mother, a non-driver, on shopping trips. We lived in Miracle Mile, a part of town that was (and is) very well serviced by public transit, and where the WalkScore is extremely high. We walked to all three public schools; when I started working in a department store at 16, I walked to my job--even at night.