A Short Drive to Fifteen

“Dad, may I borrow the car keys?” This question is not far off as my daughter, Jessie, wants to drive as soon as possible.

During summer trips to her grandparents’ farm, Jessie has enjoyed driving their golf cart up and down their farm lane and through the fields. Jessie likes to put the pedal to the metal. She hits the potholes in both the dirt road and the fields and turns the wheel so sharply that passengers must hang on or bounce out. I rationalized, though, that her experience driving a golf cart would make it more comfortable for me to eventually turn the car keys over to her. Now that the time is getting closer, I’m pretty sure that won’t be the case. Jessie, what are your thoughts about driving?

Jessie, Age 12
I can’t wait to drive! I plan to get my learner’s permit on my fifteenth birthday, so that on my sixteenth birthday I can get my driver’s license. I think it would be good for me to drive as I can drive myself to school and dance. I can also make the occasional trip to the supermarket to pick up groceries. Dad doesn’t want me to drive. He would be immensely scared with his baby behind the wheel. He doesn’t plan to let me get my license until I am much older. I would save him time by being able to drive. Now let’s get back to Dad to hear his point of view.

Even though I might not like it, I’m proud that Jessie has goals and the confidence to go after them. Yet, Jessie writes that I still think of her as my “baby.” Even though she has grown into a wonderful young lady, it’s hard for me to adjust seeing her that way. The time went too fast.

It seems not long ago I was strapping her into her car seat in the back of the vehicle. Before I knew it, she was big enough to ride in front with me. I like this arrangement, because it’s easier for us to talk as I chauffer her to and from her activities. She likes it, too, as she has become dictator of the car radio from the front passenger seat. Yet, in a little over two years, it will be time for me to move to the passenger seat, and she’ll replace me behind the wheel.

In my heart I know this is the right way for things to go. She is a responsible young lady and as a responsible parent I need to help her grow into an independent adult, not hold her back because I miss her younger years. But my brain races to find valid excuses to delay.

“Jessie, you’re too short.” No, she already stands 5’6”. Dang, why did she have to have such a tall dad? “Your feet are too small.” No, her feet are longer than her mother’s and can cover the gas pedal and brake with ease. I’m out of luck using Jessie’s physical attributes as an excuse to delay driving.

I could use a physical attribute for me. “Jessie, your dad’s heart is too weak to teach you to drive.” No, my resourceful daughter would simply find a different adult to sit beside her while she drives with her learner’s permit. Her mom would even enjoy it.

Jessie’s a good student, so I can’t use her grades as an excuse. And she’s pretty good about doing her chores. Maybe I could get my wife, Mattie, to object? No, that would never happen. Jessie gets her independence from her mother, who talked her parents into letting her get her learner’s permit and driver’s license at the earliest possible age. Plus, I want to take the high road … just a road that doesn’t have my daughter behind the wheel.

Jessie will always be my baby whether she’s 15, 16, 18, or middle-aged. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the tween years. There’s still time before I switch seats with her. At least when that happens, I’ll get to pick the songs on the radio as Jessie will have both her hands on the steering wheel – in the 10 and 2 o’clock position.

But no matter who drives or changes the music, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.