I gulped as I signed the paper atttesting to the Connecticut DMV that I had indeed offfered 40 hours of driving instruction to my sixteen year old as she nervously awaited to be called for her road test. For six months we had our daily outings driving up and down the hills of the countryside, as she learned to handle our little SUV. We enjoyed our times together, she mastering a new skill, and I enjoying time alone with my daughter, who, since she began school two years ago after ten years of homeschooling, has had less time for long talks with Mom. They were peaceful hours, and though the housework may have suffered, our relationship was strengthened. We talked about school, about her friends, about her sisters. We discussed the difference between driving on Long Island where we lived until two years ago, and the more polite drivers of our area. Most of all we discussed how different life would be when Gabbi could drive. I realized that we were fast approaching, a huge milestone in the life of my eldest daughter, who was fast becoming a young woman.
I am proud to say we never had a big argument, and that though I may have a few more grey hairs, I somehow kept my anxiety in check, (see those nail marks on my seat bottom?) and was a fairly even-tempered instructor. I was also very knowlegable, to my surprise. Things my Driver's Ed teachers told me kept popping back into my brain, word for word, "always assume the other driver will do something dangerous and be prepared for it". I wondered why of all the schooling I had, that these phrases were so easliy remembered. Perhaps because I had delayed taking the class till I was ready for college, fearing the onerous responsibility of operating a motor vehicle capable of taking a life, the warnings I received about driving defensively were burned into my conscious memory. I wondered at the boldness of my daughter, whose fifteenth birthday wish was to pick up a drivers manual so that she could take the permit test on her sixteenth birthday.
While she was taking the test, in the pouring rain at sunset, I prayed my rosary aloud in the Motor Vehicle Department. If they couldn't understand why a nervous mother was praying during a road test, they were past helping, I figured. I asked God to give me Gabbi's nervousness, because I knew that if she didn't surrender to nerves, that her natural ability would help her pass the test with flying colors. So I dealt with the butterflies in my stomach, and watched her drive the tester back into the parking lot. She parked, and the car lights remained on for an eternity, until up emerging from the car, her 200 watt smile told me she had passed. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I had to resist shouting "Alleluia!". Gabbi came in and said she only did one thing wrong, she backed into a space and parked on the white line. Not bad for a dark rainy night!
She took the written test on the computer, posed for a photo, and soon she were walking out of the officewith a spanking new "Youth License" in her hand. Since the tragic deaths of teenagers due to reckless driving has caused many restrictions to be added to 16 to 17 year olds, just about the only difference between having a learner's permit and an actual licesense these days is that she can now drive herself. For a year, she can't even drive her best friend 5 miles to school, but you'd never know that from the breadth of the smile on her face when she called her father to tell him the news.
On the way home, we ate sundaes in the car while the rain drummed on the roof, in celebration. This junior year of high school is one of almost milestones, PSAT's, college visits, the Junior Prom, Getting her driver's license is the only full fledged accomplishment available to my 16 year old, and despite a nagging fear that I was giving her the means to kill herself, I managed to enjoy a glow of pride for a job well done. I had spent 16 years giving her roots, and the last six months giving her wings. It was time to let her use them.