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    I realized I was totally tensed up in my seat. My hands were gripping the armrests. I was hyper aware of every twitch of the person next to me.

    That’s usually how I am in the dentist’s chair, but in this case, I was teaching my son Caleb to drive. He was doing a good job, too—paying attention, staying between the lines, keeping his speed around the prescribed 50 mph—but still, it was surprisingly scary. It got me to thinking later about how many parallels there are between the process of parenting a teenager and teaching them to drive.

    First the bad . . .

    They don’t know what they don’t know—and you can’t make them want to know. Dear Caleb decided that reading the book to get his permit was stupid and unnecessary, much like his approach to his physics and calculus books. The knowledge test at the DMV indicated otherwise. Twice.

    You know what they don’t know. You know from experience what can happen when a stop sign is ignored, a yellow line is drifted across, or any of the 1.8 million (I probably rounded down) other things that can cause quick disaster to pop up on the highway.

    So there you are, riding along for your 60 hours of observation, and at first, it is terrifying. You see all the risks, hazards, and threats (real and potential). You're acutely aware of how little control you actually have to prevent terrible things from happening. Every little lurch, every delayed braking, every merge and lane change keeps you right on the edge, even as you try to keep your voice “Morgan Freeman narrating March of the Penguins” calm. You don’t even get that passenger side brake pedal like your drivers ed teacher had, even if it were just for an illusion of control.

    Now the good—at least for Caleb and I.

    Eventually, they want to know. It turns out that being dropped off at the local college, then having to wait for three hours after class for your parents to pick you up is not that great. He read the book. He aced the test. He asked me questions, realized I had a lot to offer him, and took my advice. It was crazy! And maybe, when down the line he has questions about buying a house, fixing a dishwasher, getting fired, or dealing with a miscarriage, we can talk then too. That’s all I want.

    I also realized that he had spent hundreds of thousands of miles riding along with his mother and I. He has watched us observe the speed limit, hit the brakes instead of the gas at yellow lights, and all the other habits that have kept us accident-free. I am hopeful that he will drive as he has seen modeled, but I am even more hopeful that he will handle finances, marriage, and jobs as he’s seen modeled for the past 18 years.

    Finally, that whole control thing.

    Riding shotgun with your teen driver is a quick reminder of how little we have anyway, as we make the transition to letting go and launching them. We have had more “Jesus, take the wheel” moments in life with Caleb, than with just the driving. And it always comes back to another opportunity to trust God with our kids. For their safety, sure, but also that “He who started a work, will be faithful to complete it.

    So I am feeling pretty good about this right now—teaching Caleb to drive actually made our relationship better, and he's doing great. But check back with me in a year, because his brother just turned 16, and that will be a whole new episode!

    How about you? Do you have any stories of how teaching your kid to drive has been similar to parenting them? 

    Nate Ransil
    Nate Ransil
    Nate joined the Program department at Sandy Cove in 2003, and transitioned to director of that team in 2014. Nate graduated from Houghton College with a double major in Communication and Outdoor Recreation (yes, it is a thing) and got to know his wife Evelyn while co-leading backpacking trips for at-risk youth. Hopefully not as at-risk are their two sons, Caleb and TJ, who have spent all their summers at Sandy Cove, Camp Sandy Cove, and The MARSH! Nate enjoys being outside, being inside, being handy, the beach, snowboarding, roller coasters, training aardvarks, bodybuilding, contributing to quantum theory, and making up fanciful, if not entirely accurate, biographical details.
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