In the life of a teenager, few things are more important than gaining independence as he or she transitions into adulthood. Perhaps the most visible symbol of that desired independence is an automobile. It marks a rite of passage into the grownup world with the accompanying grownup privileges and responsibilities.
As parents, we walk through each step of this perilous and exciting journey with our children, guiding, loving, and advising. What follows is the account of exactly that part of our oldest son’s journey into adulthood, penned last fall just a week after the landmark event.
Sitting on our cement slab this week rests a monument. A monument to what, you ask? A monument to a God who hears and answers prayers not, usually, according to our schedule, but always right on time.
Now, this is not your garden variety statue of some famous, but long-gone hero on the order of Abe Lincoln, nor is it a memorial honoring those who went down in the great water fight of 2003. The fact that it has four wheels and a gas tank does not diminish its significance in our eyes or, more especially, in the eyes of the teenage boy who holds the keys.
You see, the young man of whom I speak has waited a very long time for this symbol of his independence. While his friends were driving around town in their own vehicles, he was either catching rides from them or bearing the humiliation of driving (dark music here) “The Family Van.” How he hated that van.
“It’s not even a normal van!” he would growl in disgust as he reached for the keys. Making mention of the fact that he clearly didn’t hate it enough to not drive it didn’t seem to restore his sunny disposition.
Not only was he grouchy, it made me grouchy to have my wheels yanked out from under me at the drop of a hat. With the advent of his driver’s license, I was suddenly sharing not only my gas, but my own independence. This necessitated endless shuffling of the car seat and stroller, not to mention his three brothers, from the van to the truck and back again, depending on what the teenager was up to.
He especially despised being dropped off at school in the van. Pulling up around the circle, he would frantically rubberneck (his version of reconnaissance) to see if anyone he knew was in the vicinity before making a break for it. It gave me whiplash just watching him. There were several times I actually had to haul him out of the glove box and forcibly heave him out the door. Once, he nearly landed in the middle of a group of cheerleaders who were passing by, leaving him pale and shaken for days.
To honor the uniqueness of the family vehicle, he and his buddies came up with a name for it that I will not repeat in this column as it offends even my finer sensibilities. Knowing how I hated it, he developed a very annoying habit. Upon dropping him off, he would stick his head back in, repeat it several times just to watch the veins pop out in my eyeballs, and then haul tail into the school.
Needing to gain control of the situation, I finally told him, “Okay. Here’s how it’s going down, buster. Every time you say that word, I am going to honk. Now, you have two choices. I can give a short blast every time it crosses your lips or I can sound one long blast that starts when I hit Panther Drive and stops when I exit Panther Drive.”
I don’t know if it was my burning eyes or my dripping fangs that convinced him I was serious, but he suddenly lost interest in playing the game.
Many, many months went by. He prayed and we prayed along with him, but due to Lemony Snicket-like series of unfortunate events, no car was forthcoming. He looked at several different vehicles during that time, but to no avail. Despair would set in. After repeated assurances that the last used car on Earth had not just been sold, he would pick up and set to praying again.
Finally, at long last, it all came together. Now, under the basketball hoop is (occasionally) parked the visible testament – in the shape of a car with a spoiler – to a Heavenly Father’s care and interest in the smallest details of a boy’s life.
Is it brand new? Nope. Would we have chosen to make him wait so long? Certainly not. Does he appreciate this car, having waited as he did? You’d better believe it. As I often tell our sons when they’re bemoaning some terrible injustice (like homework, for instance, or having to clean their rooms), “You will live to tell about it.”
I hope he does. Tell, that is…tell it and tell it again, starting with his kids.