All the Ways Having a Teen Driver Is Making Me Crazy

teen driver

When my eldest son, Alex, got his permit, I fantasized about how great this right-of-passage would be. I told myself, You will handle this better than your crazy parents, who recited accident statistics, stomped on the floor board like they had a separate brake peddle, or tried to convince me mass transit was the only way to go. I had this.


Alex dreamed of driving ever since his Cozy Coupe days. He spent hours in the driveway turning, parking, and honking the horn in his red plastic Flintstone mobile. Yet, when I handed him the keys to my non-aerodynamic but highly functional SUV, my fantasy began to crumble faster than feta. I held my breath as he pulled out of the driveway and drove a hundred feet to a stop sign. Phew.

“Congrats, you made it to the stop sign without crashing!” my youngest, Zachary, yelled from the backseat, as if he read a speech bubble looming over my head.

We were continuing on our way when, from my zero-control passenger seat, I spotted two spandex-clad cyclists riding side by side. I gently commented, “Honey, there are bikers up ahead.” A sharp pain in my chest induced a sudden urge to roll down the window and shout, “Move over, it’s his maiden voyage! And just so you know, those outfits aren’t flattering!” My stomach clinched like a fist in a boxing ring as I gripped the door handle.

As I popped a cinnamon Altoid, attempting to soothe my nervous stomach, a scene from European Vacation -- when Clark Griswold ran over a biker -- flashed in my mind. I gasped loudly as Alex navigated, much too closely, around the bikers. My fantasy was dead, and the onslaught of instructions began. “Try not to get so close to them next time,” I found myself lecturing.

“You want me to honk really loud at them, like you do?” Alex asked, smirking, his confidence blooming along with my stress.

Before he got his permit, I couldn’t get my teenager to join me on the smallest errand. A request to run to the grocery store evoked an exasperated “Can’t you do it tomorrow?” Now, a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond had him flying off the couch and grabbing the car keys.

So there I was, stuck in the passenger seat of hell, cringing with every overly wide turn, every four-way stop, every slammed brake, and every pothole he nailed with my new tires. My acid reflux flared with a vengeance.

A looming storm had me declaring, “Alex, let me drive.” “Mom, I can’t only drive on sunny days.” Argument lost. I bravely grasped the door handle, which I came to realize equated to my mother’s pretend brake on the floorboard.

“Check out Mom, she’s grabbing onto the handle like we’re going to die!” Zach announced teasingly.

Like a wound-up jack-in-the-box, my father’s hydroplaning speech exploded out of my mouth word for word, driving home the point that I had lost my mind! More than inclement weather, I feared the highway trip. Imagine merging into high-speed traffic in a car piloted by someone whose prior experience was solely derived from making a plastic car move with his feet.

So when my baby merged onto a highway, I can only equate it to heading toward Niagara Falls in a pickle barrel. My fantasy long gone, I directed, “Watch the cars and get over when you can.” I looked as he looked. “Okay, get over now!”

“Mom, relax!”

Mr. Obvious in the backseat couldn’t let this moment die: “What are you going to do when Alex gets his license and we’re in the car without you?”

And there it was, like a hammer to the side of my head. I realized that in less than a year, both my precious babies could be in a vehicle alone. I grabbed for my Altoids, popped three in my mouth, and sat back.

“Alex, can you drive me to the store? I need to buy some wine to have with dinner.”

Celeste Chin left the corporate world to raise her children and eventually pursue a career in writing. Also a substitute teacher, she lives in New Jersey with her two teenage boys. Celeste recently completed writing her first children’s novel, for children 9 to 12 years old. Her favorite hobbies surround spending time with her sons, either on the golf course, skiing, hiking, or kayaking, just to name a few.

Photo via Chiang

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