Driver's education: Not for the faint of heart

I recently received a text from my sister that read, “He passed!” Attached was a picture of my eldest nephew in which he is smiling and holding proof of his most recent rite of passage: His driver’s license.

I knew that he had been studying and practicing for his driver’s test and was happy to see that his hard work paid off. And yet, my mind couldn’t accept the fact that he was now old enough to drive.

Wasn’t I just peering over his crib making googly-oogly sounds to make him smile? Wasn’t he just holding my hand for support as he was learning how to walk? Didn’t we just sing our latest rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?”

My walk down memory lane took an unexpected turn to the time in my life when I was a teenager and was preparing to take my own driver’s test.

I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of what I thought at the time was the coolest car ever: My family’s station wagon. Who needs an apple-green Ferrari 250 GTO when you can drive a potato-tan Subaru Leone?

For the past several months, my dad had been teaching me how to drive. Besides giving him the opportunity to spend quality time with his eldest daughter, instructing me in the art of driving also gave him the opportunity to increase his blood pressure to impressive levels and to produce a sprinkling of gray hairs throughout his head.

After numerous near misses of front and rear car bumpers — and a pedestrian or two — my dad finally mustered the courage to teach me one final driving lesson: Getting on and off the highway.

The plan was simple: Get on the highway, merge with traffic and then get off the next exit. That’s it.

“I can do this… I can do this…” I muttered to myself as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands as if trying to alter its current geometric shape. I waited until the light turned green and reluctantly made my way up the entrance ramp to I-95.

And just as I was about to merge with traffic, I stopped. Just like that.  No stop sign directing me to stop or vehicular malfunctions preventing me to go; just a strong and overpowering desire to live as I caught a glimpse of the 18-wheelers and maniac drivers that were barreling down the highway toward me.

I began contemplating the benefits that a life of public transportation had to offer when I suddenly tuned into my dad’s frantic, “Go! Go! Why are you stopping?! For heaven’s sake, go!” Startled back into our present predicament, I pressed down on the accelerator and I went.

Surprisingly, I avoided causing a multi-car crash. Predictably, this was the last time my dad took me driving.

In the end, I managed to get us off the highway without turning the station wagon into a convertible; I convinced the DMV tester assessing my driving skills that I wasn’t a menace to society; and I took a license photo that resembled a really bad mug shot.

And now, decades later and with the support of his parents, my nephew has just passed his own driver’s test and has reached yet another milestone in his life.

One day, years from now, just like me, he’ll think back to the day he got his driver’s license. Inevitably, details will blur with the passing of time, but I hope one thing always remains clear: How proud I am of him.


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