A milestone I am not quite ready to meet

When youíre a parent, life is full of so many milestones Ė things like the first smile, the first word, the first step, eating solid food, the first day of school, GETTING A DRIVERíS LICENSE.

NO, NUH-UH, NYET, NEIN, NO WAY, N-O!

Palmer turns 16 this Saturday (!), and I am not ready for the implications.

I am OK with the fact that since he took his PSATs for the first time, we are being inundated with mail from colleges and universities. Itís time to start thinking about college (I am not OK with the financial implications, but thatís another story.)

I am OK with the fact that he now likes roller coasters and went to see a horror movie in a theater last weekend with a group of his friends.

And maybe I am OK with the fact that he eventually WILL be behind the wheel of a massive piece of machinery Ö

Iím just not there yet.

I grew up in New Jersey, in the dark ages, Iím sure my kids would think. (And yes, boys, we did have color TV when I was a kid.) In New Jersey, we could get our permits at 16Ĺ and our licenses at 17. I donít remember much about the permit part, but I distinctly remember taking the road portion of my driverís exam ON my 17th birthday, and leaving the DMV as a newly licensed driver. Happy birthday to me!

Here, the kids can get their learnerís permit when they turn 16, begin their behind the wheel training and in six months can get their Junior License.

In theory, it sounds somewhat similar to my experience, but hereís the main difference: I was a junior in high school when I got my learnerís permit and a senior when I got my license. Palmer is a sophomore, and I just think thatís too early. I donít think anyone in 10th grade is ready to handle the responsibilities of a moving vehicle.

And itís not that I donít trust Palmer and his abilities to make decisions. He is very responsible and knows the right things to do. But getting behind a 2,000 pound car and facing the challenge of driving in Berks County is a big step. My husband doesnít even like to drive!

Iím not sure sophomores are ready to respond to some of the situations theyíll face on the road.

I told Palmer a year ago that he would not be getting his permit on his 16th birthday, but had figured I would take him in the summer. As a result, I never even started checking into the insurance implications and the license requirements. I had made my decision and that was that. Whatís the rush?

You may be laughing, and thinking Iím over protective and need to loosen the apron strings. I donít really think Iím overprotective Ė I want my kids to experience all that life has to offer Ė at the right time.

Maybe youíre thinking ďwhatís the difference if heís in 10th grade or the beginning of 11th?Ē I actually do think there is a difference.

But now, the pressure is on. His friends are getting their permits (some of them are, anyway). And while I do know of one or two little fender benders so far, nothing major has happened.

A week or so ago, I took the boys to have their eyes checked. The eye doctor has known Palmer since he was about five, and she has a daughter who recently turned 16, as well as an older son. I like to ask everyone I know with kids the same age what they are doing. Some are waiting, others arenít. She didnít wait and encouraged me to let him go ahead with the permit.

And then, sure enough, we were driving home and for the second time in two months, one or more of us came within inches of being seriously injured or worse ó due to the stupidity of someone else on the road.

A woman was backing out of a driveway on Gibraltar Road in Exeter (too fast, by the way), and didnít see us. If I hadnít swerved into the other lane, she would have slammed into the passenger side. Thank goodness there was no traffic coming toward me in the other lane. I was shaking the rest of the way home. Strangely enough, the woman followed me home to apologize to me.

She pulled up in front of my house, and when we got out of the car started a big apology. ďI was delivering meals for the church and didnít see you,Ē she said. ďIím calling everyone now to tell them to back into the driveways.Ē

What I said was Ė ďweíre all OK, drive safely.Ē What I wanted to say was Ė ďhereís a tip lady, STAY OFF THE PHONE WHEN YOUíRE DRIVING!Ē

And thatís the issue Ė the other drivers. I commute to Pottstown every day and see some amazing things (and not the good amazing): tailgating, speeding, texting, eating, READING NEWSPAPERS while driving.

We can teach our teens the right thing to do and the best way to handle a situation. And as smart as they are Ė when faced with the stupidity of others, will they ever really be ready?

While I think I will wait until after the winter to move forward with the learnerís permit, I know that for Palmer to learn how to handle the situations and to get the confidence he needs, he has to start facing some of them.

Iíll be there to help guide him.

How have you handled your teen driver? Did you let them get their permits at 16? Did you wait? I would love to hear from you about your experiences. You can e-mail me at drovins@berksmontnews.com.

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