Trusting my teen driver

Last summer, I took my son to the elementary school parking lot for his first driving lesson. 

His birthday falls in October, not only a busy time, but also a time when, here in Minnesota, precipitation comes in many forms. 

I liked the idea of him being over the initial shock of taking control of a car — without the added stress of said precipitation. I was hoping to avoid any fears in the form of bad road conditions. 

He seemed apprehensive and certainly perplexed by my excitement. We took many trips back to the school lot, going in small circles, practicing turns and horrific parking jobs. 

Every drive, he gained a bit of confidence and every drive I was calm and totally in control.

On the road

When we both felt ready to leave the parking lot, I guided him down small neighborhood streets where the speed limit didn’t get much above 30. I sensed his fear, but I was still confident in him.

I would calmly say things like: “You are going to hit our neighbors’ mailbox: Pull slightly to the left.”

I was also confident that I wouldn’t slam my foot down on the imaginary brake on the passenger-side floor or raise my voice. Then he passed his permit test. 

Making it legal

I never remember signing a document that said: “I permit you to drive yourself or me down the road. You’re totally welcome to put my life and the life of your sister in danger. Signed: Mom.”

I did, however, take him to the DMV and watched as his foot tapped uncontrollably while he waited to take the state’s written knowledge test, a required step for him to get his learner’s permit.

It’s in these moments of parenthood we want to demonstrate our ability to see through a situation with ease, to nonchalantly make these big doings no big deal. If you pass, great; if not, you’ll study and try again. No biggie. 

This is my cool, collected exterior. And yet, I can’t stop making repeated glances to the testing area. 

My heart sinks when one teen pops up from his finished test and waits for the proctor to tell him how he did. He catches the glance of his expectant father sitting across from me. His shoulders slumped. Ugh. That’s a no. 

Then it’s my son’s turn to take the test. He’s done. When he pops up, he gives me his signature winning smile — and a thumbs up. 

Oh my god, he passed. 

Over 40

No, I’m not referring to my age. I’m referring to the speed my son hit when I felt close to having my first heart attack. 

He swerved a bit, trying to decide which side of a fork in the road he should choose, and I slammed my foot onto the imaginary foot brake. 

“Turn left!” I shrieked. He was obviously shaken by his normally calm mother’s response. I got a look from him I hadn’t seen before. 

“You have to understand, I held you in my arms. You couldn’t eat or do anything without my help,” I said. “And now my life is in your hands.” 

To which he calmly replied: “It’s going to be OK, Mom. Just trust me.”

Just yesterday 

He comes into the kitchen in his choir robe and black dress shoes. 

He grabs the car key and says, “I’m ready. I’ll start the car.” 

I get in the passenger side without hesitation, check my email on my phone, look out the window. 

He’s chatty like he normally is. I tell him I feel like I’m being driven to the high school by Sister Act. We both laugh and he offers to serenade me on the way. 

Oh, how fast things change! 

I’m slowly learning to pass the baton and be OK with it. And he knows — like I should have all along — I trust him.


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 13 and 15. Write her at jwizbowski@mnparent.com.