A Teenage Driver And A Parent Who Means Well

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, November 25, 2009

Here are a few things I am not interested in: Vampires, werewolves and moody teenagers.

Having said that let me qualify it slightly. I have a teenager. Sometimes he’s moody. He just got his learner’s permit to drive a car, and I’m wildly interested in that.

This teenager is the fifth of my five children, and it’s his turn. But it has been a long time since the last one learned to drive and I’d forgotten what that means.

The first thing it means is that I have to be a better driver than I normally might be. Little rules and regulations I take for granted and fudge occasionally are things he’s required to know and practice before becoming a licensed motorist.

These days I drive more deliberately than usual because I don’t want to be an example of what not to do. But even those of us with the best intentions fall short sometimes—way short.

This week on MSNBC.com I read a story out of Monroe, Ohio:
“A top cop mistakenly shot himself in the thigh after giving his daughter a lesson in gun safety, police said.
“Middletown police Chief Greg Schwarber, 54, was preparing to clean his Glock .45-caliber pistol on Friday and didn’t realize the gun was still loaded, according to a police report.
“When officers arrived, they found the chief lying on the floor with a towel covering his leg. Schwarber was taken to a hospital for treatment.
“The hospital had no record of Schwarber being treated or admitted. A home phone number for him couldn’t be found.”

Well, the hospital may have been able to cover up this incident. But the press latched onto it and I’m pretty sure it’s a gun safety lesson his daughter will never forget. Well done, Chief Schwarber. Way to drive home a point.

Another parent with pure intent was my niece. On a road trip through Nevada, she felt compelled to demonstrate to her young daughter the evils of gambling.

The details are sketchy, but something like this: They stopped at a gas station with slot machines. In answer to a question, and in an effort to dispel any idea of the glamour of easy money, my niece slipped some coins into one of the slots.

The short story is she won $50. What did she say to her daughter? “OK. That was a bad example.”

Parental lessons gone awry are nothing new. But I don’t want to be the one to show my new driver how easy it is to get a speeding ticket, or what can happen if you nick a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

It reminds me of parents who encourage their children to be good sports in the game, and then end up slugging it out or talking trash with other parents, creating not only tension, but sometimes tragic results.

The absolute truth is that the things we do and say are on display to our children—always. It’s scary, but true.

So, I get to be more road wary, which is a good thing, and I get to have a teenager who wants to go wherever I do hoping he can drive, and that’s an even better thing.

Vampires, werewolves, new moons, twilights, and eclipses are getting all the adolescent attention right now. But thankfully, at our house, there’s a teenager who’s interested in little more than one thing—driving.

Now, let’s see if his mom can learn how to quit punching the gas on a yellow light.

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