During Mardi Gras break, my 15-year-old took a 30-hour driver’s education class. Over the course of the class, she took several tests, and thankfully, passed them all — there was no refund for the class had she not. Last week, she did the driving portion of the class. After much studying and nervousness, she passed the driving test. On Wednesday, I took her to the DMV where she took another exam. She passed it too, and we walked out with a Louisiana driver’s permit in hand.
It was a happy day.
I never had a driver’s permit. Yet, I couldn’t help but compare her long and rather bureaucratic driver’s education and examination process to the one I went through to get a driver’s license.
I turned 15 on a Saturday, but right after school was out the following Monday, my mother took me to the Courthouse. We went to a small room on the corner of second floor, right under the jail. Through the window, I could see the movie theater easily. If I craned my neck, I could see City Hall. Our county highway patrolmen, who I had known all my life, was there alone. His daughter was in my class. She and I had grown up together. My mother had also known him all of her life. He and her brother had been great friends throughout their childhoods in a tiny community just outside of town.
The highway patrolman handed me a test. I sat down with it and a pencil in a wooden desk. I wrote my name on the line at the top of the page. He and my mom proceeded to talk. I had just answered the first question when he walked over to where I was sitting and pulled the test out from under my pencil, leaving a long mark down the page.
I looked up, startled.
He stood there grinning.
“Jan, I’ve been watching you drive for at least four years,” he said. “Get out of here. I know your mama’s got plenty to keep her busy, and I’m ready to go home. Here’s your license.”
We never even got to the driving portion of the test.
I had studied and practiced parallel parking.
Even so, I was more than happy to take the little piece of paper he was offering and skedaddle — I had my driver’s license, and I was off.
I drove everywhere from that day forward. Once I got to college and began supporting myself and began to make most of my own decisions, I started planning and taking giant trips that crisscrossed the country. These trips were not luxurious, but they were wondrous. If there was a road, I was ready to take it.
Getting my driver’s license may not have been the birth of my freewheeling spirit, but it was certainly its liberation.
On that day in late March long ago, there was something powerful in the State’s recognition that I was old enough to drive. I had more assurance in myself and my abilities to decide where to go and how to get there. Basically, I was in more control of my life. Granted, my newfound additional confidence may have been misguided, and surely my parents fretted with worry and concern when I started going places in the car rather than my bicycle. Maybe it helped that I lived in a town with only 5,000 people — most of whom we knew? Or maybe it didn’t.
Either way, I am grateful our daughter has six months required to drive with one of us in the car. Yes, I know she is sprouting wings and about to fly with a new and different liberation of her own, but I don’t mind having her in the nest a little while longer.