Alva James-Johnson: Stuck in park, while time keeps moving

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comApril 18, 2014 

Alva James-Johnson

My 16-year-old daughter is about to get her driver's license.

She's all revved up and ready to go while I remain stuck in park.

It's not that I don't trust her driving skills. She handles herself pretty well on the road and has even become a driving expert. I can hardly drive one block without her pointing out all the rules I've broken along the way. (That's what I get for sending her to driver's ed classes.)

I think my reluctancy has less to do with my daughter's driving ability and more with the fact that I'm not ready to let her go.

You see, it was just yesterday that she was a newborn baby, my husband and I anxiously awaiting her first word, her first step and her first day of kindergarten. Back then, we documented every incremental development. But somewhere along the way we lost track. And before we knew it, she was a teenager, standing 5-feet-10.5 inches.

Now that she's learning how to drive, I think of all the things that could go wrong while she's on the road, especially in today's society with texting and other distractions. I imagine I will have many sleepless nights, like many mothers, just praying she makes it home safely.

When my daughter asks how long it will be before we'll allow her to drive to school on her own, or take her sister to the mall, I'm not sure what to say. I know we will eventually get to that point, but I don't know how soon. So I tell her to be patient while my husband and I get use to the whole idea.

I realize, however, that patience doesn't come easy when you're a 16-year-old yearning for independence. When I got my license, I was a teenager living in New York City, where public transportation was everywhere. I didn't really need a driver's license, but I wanted it as a rite of passage.

And the day I got that laminated card, I drove all over town, letting friends and family know that Independence Day had finally arrived. My parents were nervous, I'm sure, but they didn't stand in my way.

I tell myself that things are different now. My parents didn't have to worry about cell phones and crime wasn't as rampant. There's a reason why people of my generation are "helicopter parents" and I just happen to be one of them.

That's all true, but I also have to wonder if I'm being a little too protective, and smothering my children a little too much. My daughter has already logged 31 hours of driving time, taken 30 hours of drivers ed and completed six hours of formal driving lessons. She's proven that she's a responsible driver, yet still I'm reluctant.

Some of my friends tell me that they're struggling with the same feelings. Many of them already have children in college, and their worries have only increased.

Next year, my daughter goes off to college, and I can only imagine the anxiety I'll feel then.

Well, I guess I'll just have to accept the fact that she's growing up, and time just keeps moving, whether I'm ready or not. Next up is my youngest daughter, who turns 15 in 2015 and is already making plans for her driving permit. She's following her sister's lead and talking about the day she'll finally drive around town.

I hope, by then, I'll be ready.

Alva James-Johnson, reporter, ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com.'

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