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The Drive to Escape

The other day, I was listening to a radio commentator talk about the changes that technology has brought to different generations and discovered that there is apparently research out there that supports my guessed explanation for a phenomenon I observed last year. Though it would seem that this particular trend has been going on for a little while now, my reason for only noticing it recently is purely personal: only recently have I become the mother of a child old enough to operate a motor vehicle.

Actually…this happened a little less recently than I care to ponder. Technically, my Moon could have gotten her driver’s permit over a year and a half ago. In about a month she could even get her provisional license without ever having taken Driver’s Ed (not that I think that this is in anyway a good idea! Let someone else white knuckle it through her first days behind the wheel. My knuckles are already a constant shade of snow just trying to get the kid through her teenage years!).

All of this information (which I have carefully researched, printed, and scattered about the house in the most highly teenage-trafficked areas, as well as directly on her pillow) is purely academic as long as the kid continues to not want to drive. Yes, my own personal mini-Miss Daisy flat out refuses to even entertain the idea of driving. When she first told me that she would “rather not”…you could have knocked me over with a feather…and I am talking a downy, fluffy, baby chick feather. My mind reached back to when I, myself, was 16. Ok…I was not racing to get my license either, but mostly because I was one of the youngest in my group of friends and always had a ride with one of them. Besides, it actually turned out not to be a bad thing that I did not have a photo ID that time the policeman pulled my friend over after totally tailgating us with his high beams glaring through the back window, and no identifying flashing blue/red lights or siren…assuming we were lurking in the wrong lane… as my friend cruised along in preparation for a left turn. While shielding her eyes from the glare, she politely asked me to flip the bird, which, as a compliant and grateful passenger, I did without hesitation…resulting in the immediate appearance of the pretty blue and red spinny lights. But that, my friends, is a tale for another time.

I also knew that when I did finally get my license, it would most likely be coupled with a curfew, which up to then I really did not have… NOT because my parents were permissive hippy folk who were happy to let me drift with the shifting winds. Au contraire! These were some clever, devious parents. My friends all thought they were so totally cool for not imposing a curfew upon me, and I, too, was initially quite flattered by their undying trust until one day it hit me: I couldn’t drive; we lived in a residential area with no sidewalks and nothing even remotely exciting within walking distance (with the exception of Joe’s bar…but that was totally a teacher hang-out…and after having dealt with us for an entire school week, they deserved not to have us lingering outside); I always had to get rides from my friends; my parents knew my friends’ parents and thus knew that they had curfews… You see where this is going, right? Where the hell was I going to go? So, I was not in that big of a hurry. That said, I still got my license when I was able. I just assumed it was the natural thing to do.

I see none of that assumption in my Moon and when I mention this fact to others, I am told that I am not the only one in this somewhat baffling situation. Sure…there are still lots of eager kids who do get their driver’s licenses as soon as they can. I know this not only because of the parade of proud pics of young people holding up that special little card outside the BMV (or DMV, or other combinations of letters, depending on where they live) that their parents post on social media, but because I see them driving all around me…often scaring the bejeezus out of me as they hone their skills. That said, the number of kids who, like my own, show no interest in getting their license is apparently on the rise.

So, when I heard that this waning excitement over driving as soon as possible is an actual trend, I felt not only relieved, but a little perplexed. Then I thought about the main reasons it used to be such a monumental event to get one’s license: freedom and access to friends. Sure, we could talk to our friends on the phone…but it was a landline! Many were the times that I would be swapping dark inner secrets with a friend over the phone, only to suddenly sense the presence of another listener… perhaps my little brother? Wait…was that a breath? Is someone on the other phone?? We couldn’t even run to check before cordless phones became more common, or we’d be suddenly jerked backward when we reached the end of the tele-leash. And even with cordless phones…the battery would inevitable die before we were ready to say goodbye. So, as soon as someone in the group was able to drive, the main use of the phone was to plan when we could get together and where. Even just the driving itself was the entertainment at times. Once, in a rapture of nostalgia, I told my daughter about how we would sometimes just cruise the streets with the windows open, calling out to people and having a good time. She looked at me like I should be in black and white…and perhaps even have subtitles.

This is not the principal way they interact anymore. Sure, they go out, have activities, and still get together now and again, but nowadays the main form of “interaction” that teens have with each other takes place in silence, and on screens. And even when I have my Moon’s flip phone (yes, I am that cruel mother: the only one on earth that will not let her teen have a smart phone) safely tucked away somewhere, she still has her school computer. Ah…my nemesis…the school computer: essential for homework AND for chatting with multiple friends while watching ridiculously stupid videos and seeming to do homework.

The point is, they no longer have the need to drive to “escape”. For better or for worse they have their friends at their finger-tips no matter where they happen to be physically. I think this creates a comfortable, but dangerous  illusion on multiple levels: the kids feel like they are escaping into the world, while we parents feel relieved that they are safe at home. Sadly, neither one of these things is necessarily true. They are not truly “out in the world”, discovering  things, and people and learning to read emotions… nor are they necessarily “safe at home”, given both the crap we know goes on “out there” on the internet along with the crap we cannot even begin to imagine…and even if, like me, you try to keep on top of it and stay a step ahead (which is absolutely exhausting) it only takes a quick search on the net to see stories that remind us of how resourceful kids can be even when (and sometimes especially when) their resourcefulness ends up harming them.

My other half is not very helpful in this situation, either, since he grew up in a country where a driver’s license can first be obtained at the age of 18. Of course, where he grew up there were also plenty of buses and trains with special student prices, so the same need to drive did not even exist.

Though it would certainly be nice to have an extra driver in the house to help out, this is also an area where I do not feel particularly comfortable pushing (aside from my subtle or not so subtle hints). Not only am I not in a hurry to add more insurance costs, but I understand that the knowledge that she is out there on the road with people like the moron who almost hit me head on the other day, while checking his phone and drifting over the center line will add a whole new level of anxiety to my life. This is a decision I would really like her to arrive at on her own and to be comfortable making.

In the meantime, I will continue to take advantage of the time we will share together in the car to talk about her day, life, possibilities…and who that boy was who texted the other day. One cannot underestimate the value of inescapable uncomfortable conversations as a substitute motivator…

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