That’s not the actual question my fourteen-year-old son asked me recently, though it may as well have been. We were traveling in the car (so often, it’s in the car), he was sitting beside me, in the passenger seat, and I was explaining the proper and safe reaction to some other driver’s behavior we’d just encountered.
“Are you going to tell me driving rules when we’re in the car from now until I turn sixteen?” “Jack” said. His words were polite, but his inflection said, Please, God, make it stop.
“You bet I am,” I replied. “And after that, if I think it’s necessary.”
Jack didn’t argue, thus demonstrating that he’s learning a little wisdom with age. Good to know.
In New Hampshire, kids can test for their driver’s licenses (a.k.a., Youth Operator Licenses) at sixteen. At fifteen-and-a-half, they can practice driving with “a licensed supervising driver at least twenty-five years old.” Kids need to have accrued forty hours of this behind-the-wheel experience—ten of those at night—before they can obtain their licenses, and apparently, the timing of all the various license requirements renders it common practice for many of these driving hours to be logged prior to kids’ formal, behind-the-wheel classes. (But then, this is the state where we sell alcohol at state-run liquor stores at highway rest stops, so go figure.) So while I would have made educating my kids about good, safe driving a priority no matter where we lived, the fact that I know they will be on the road, operating a fast, heavy machine that could kill them or someone else when they’re not even equipped with a learner’s permit means I’m going to make sure they damn well know everything I can teach them on a mental level before they get behind the wheel. As I’ve told both of them many times, confident and capable drivers are safe drivers, and I intend for them to be safe drivers.
So, yeah, Jack. Settle in. It’s going to be a long listen. Besides, as you know well by now: I am the Mom Who Talks.
As I’ve often mentioned here on the blog, I talk to my kids about everything. Driving. Drugs. Education. Alcohol. Screen time. Sex. Friendship. What you get from taking care of pets. Our state heroin epidemic. Donald Trump. Love. Ambition. Race and racism. Human kindness and human cruelty. Sexual orientation. History. Family issues. I do keep age-appropriateness in mind, as well as the individual sensitivities of each kid, but I don’t stay away from issues just because they are difficult.
I think the difficult issues are actually the most important ones to talk about. No, my kids don’t want to hear another drug talk, or the latest discussion of sexual consent. But life doesn’t hold back, so neither do I. I can’t be with my kids every minute as they grow up, always protecting them from danger, ensuring sure they’re making the right choices every time they’re faced with a big or small decision that, unbeknownst to them at the moment, could have consequences they can’t imagine. All I can do is inform them and provide the openings for discussions (even if they substitute eye-rolls and monotone, single-word acknowledgements for questions and comments) so they are equipped whenever they do find themselves in various situations. Will they always listen to me? Of course not. Will they make mistakes? Of course they will. Will their mistakes be small ones that don’t devastate their lives or anyone else’s? Here’s hoping.
In the meantime, I will keep talking, and keep asking questions. I will keep pointing out driving rules whenever I see fit. (And Jack, you used to think it would be so fun to sit in the front seat!) Because, kids, you’re growing up faster than I can measure, and pretty soon you’re going to be sick of me asking how those college applications are going.
And “Emmie,” as I told you just a few weeks ago not long after you turned eleven, I’m going to start having more of these conversations with you, too. Your eye-rolls and sighs in reply confirmed that you’re ready, as did your “But I already hear everything you say to Jack.” Not quite, honey. There’s much more to come.
I hope the worst thing the two of you ever have to say about me is that I talked to you too often about too much stuff. You can discuss it when you’re both in the car, driving down the New Hampshire highway—without texting, of course.