Bob Dunning

Standing In: Trying to put the brakes on a rite of passage

By From page A2 | October 03, 2013

They’re out there, causing even the stoutest of heart among us to sit white-knuckled, pale-faced, our blood pressure inching toward the danger zone. Our right foot might instinctively reach for the invisible brake, some of us perhaps even mouthing a silent prayer…

Our children are beginning to drive, some of them with a nervous parent in the passenger seat, circling empty parking lots on Sunday mornings, learning how to maneuver in a straight line down abandoned country roads, nothing but cornfields to witness this societal rite of passage, sunflowers with solemnly bowed heads understanding the immensity of the moment.

As if watching them walk off on their own into the new world of high school wasn’t tough enough, now we are introducing them to the open road, enclosed in heavy metal contraptions we hope will bring them safely to their destinations.

What kind of drivers will they be? Have we set a good example? Will they take after their father, sitting calmly in traffic, humming along with the radio, waiting patiently for the self-absorbed driver to vacate her parking spot, shaking his head disapprovingly at the erratic driver clearly focused on texting rather than watching the road ahead? Or will they take after their mother, impatient to arrive, heavy on the horn, unforgiving of inept behavior that will surely cause her untimely demise?

Will they stay off their phone? Turn down loud music? Come to complete stops? Observe the speed limits? Never pick up hitchhikers? Always wear their seat belt? Give up on the idea of driving altogether to keep their mother from hyperventilating? Just a thought … after all, these are just children, who still eat Froot Loops for breakfast, giggle in classes, decorate their rooms with SpongeBob …

Despite their tremendous desire for independence, we’re not quite there yet. We live close enough to walk just about everywhere they want to go and both of us parents work out of town, leaving no spare BMWs or Mercedeses in the driveway. (Has anyone noticed what Davis High students are driving these days? How packed the DHS parking lot is in our fair, eco-minded city?)

Yet when the day does arrive, no use pretending it will not, we will hand over those keys, smile reassuringly and keep ourselves sufficiently distracted until the slam of the car door from the driveway announces their safe return.

It is only now that I appreciate those talismans I used to receive as gifts whenever I left my native country. A favorite among teachers especially, was the laminated traveler’s prayer, a prayer for a safe journey recited by Jews. “… guide our footsteps … make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness and peace … grant us grace, kindness and mercy … rescue us from … ambush along the way…”

Yes please, to all of the above, so our children may safely steer themselves across the biggest parking lot of all.

— Karen Levy is an Israeli-American writer and the author of “My Father’s Gardens” (Homebound Publications, 2013). She teaches English at Sacramento State.

Special to The Enterprise

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