Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rites of passage

There are certain events that stand as rites of passage, from one status in life to another.
For a teenager, one of those rites of passage is the acquisition of a learner's permit.
That's the piece of paper that says you can officially learn how to drive a car.
We at the homestead have reached that rite of passage.
Chris turned 16 earlier this month (part of the reason blogging's been inconsistent of late). In the great state of Pennsyltucky, 16 is the age at which you can acquire a learner's permit.
Now, times have changed here since the days when his old man (me) got his permit.
Back then, all you had to do was apply -- and voila! Your permit came in the mail. No testing, no nuthin'.
Today, in order to get your permit, you have to pass the "written" part of the old driver's exam.
Friday, Chris had the day off from school (teachers' in-service). So, bright (relatively bright, anyway) and early (by both our standards, especially the night after we pulled off a surprise party for him), we drove down to the Driver's Licensing Center, about 45 minutes from the homestead.
Of course, we waited. And waited. And waited. I think every Catholic high school kid in the area had the same idea. We saw a few of his classmates while waiting.
Then, when our turn came, we filled out the paperwork (when there's government, there's paperwork), and the examiner took him back to a computer terminal where he would take the "written" test.
You have 18 questions to get 15 correct in order to receive your permit in Pa. these days. When you get your 15th right, the computer shuts down and says "You Passed."
After about 15 minutes, Chris emerged from the cubicle and flipped a thumbs-up.
Five minutes, some more paperwork and $31 U.S. later, he had his permit.
The tough part didn't come until Saturday afternoon. That's when I took him out for the first time in my Scion... which is probably the car he'll use when he takes his licensing test in the fall (there's a mandatory 6-month wait now).
I drove him over to our church's parking lot, about 5 minutes away, and put him behind the wheel and told him to do simple stuff, just to get a feel for the car.
Later, I actually let him go out onto the road -- living out in the sticks helps, 'coz there's very little traffic -- and finally let him drive home.
We repeated the exercise Sunday afternoon and will no doubt do it many times more between now and the fall.
It's a curious sort of feeling on my part. He's still totally dependent upon me in this phase, but I'm responsible for giving him the skills toward independence.
It's another reminder that there is a cycle of life. I've done the early part; now it's my responsibility to help him through, so he can later do more on his own.
In a strange way, you want that dependence to continue, even though you know it really can't. But at the same time you want to help him get to the point that he can stand on his own, just as our parents helped us reach that point. It's what a parent does.
Bottom line: I'm getting old; he's growing up. That's an immutable law of nature.
But it still doesn't stop the increasing appearance of gray in what hair I have left.