And so finally, we have a 16 year old in the house, homies.
But we don’t gotta driver. What up with that?
Oh, sorry for the gangster-wannabe talk. I’ve been spending a lot of time with suburban white teens.
So anyway, the hubs and I hated to admit it, but we were looking forward to having a third driver in the family. We weren’t getting a third car, mind you, because that would be an entitlement, and we’re all about earning the finer things in life and possibly paying for them yourself. Plus, we just didn’t have the extra scratch, me being an unemployed graduate student and all. But we were anxiously awaiting having another family driver to help schlep around the rest of the brood.
The fateful day in June was fast approaching. Our potential driver had logged many hours behind the wheel with either his devil-may-care dad or his neurotic-white-knuckle-hyperventilating mom supervising.
Driver’ ed, check.
Night driving, check.
Parallel parking practice, check.
School got out in the middle of May, and our boy was cruising toward his 16th birthday on autopilot.
And then, one morning two days after school ended, I happened to come home from the YMCA to find my 15-year-old nephew literally wringing his hands on the sidewalk in front of his house. (Perhaps you recall that both my sisters and my parents live on our block.)
I got out of the car and approached him, asking him what was wrong.
“Nothing,” he said. “Well…’’
He looked toward the north end of our block. I did, too, in time to see a blue Ford van turn the corner from the west. It was my sister’s van. But she was at work. And her husband was on a business trip to Atlanta.
“Honey,” I said, “that’s weird. Who’s driving your mom’s van?”
I stood in the middle of the street, looking toward the van, which crept ever more slowly down the street. And that’s when I had my out-of-body experience. It’s like I was up above, looking down as the scene unfolded. I saw me standing there, head cocked slightly to the left, as my brain caught up with what my eyes were seeing.
“I told them not to do it,” my nephew moaned.
Without my glasses, it was blurry, but I could make out the face of…my unlicensed 15-year-old son and his almost-13-year-old male cousin, who was grinning sheepishly. My son slowly but expertly guided the van into my sister’s driveway.
The van sat idle. No one inside moved. Finally, my younger nephew rolled down the passenger window, and that’s when I morphed into White Trash Mommy and yelled, “Get your asses out of that van!”
Is it any wonder the conservative neighbors next door to my sister’s house despise our family?
My younger nephew climbed out of the van and began slinking across the yard toward his house. “And don’t think I’m not telling your mom, Buddy!” I called to him.
My own progeny got out of the van and walked toward me, his hand outstretched. In it lay his driver’s permit.
I was seething but trying to remain calm. What would Jim Fay do? I kept asking myself. Love and logic. Love and logic. Do not threaten to kill him.
I held out my cell phone. “I should call the cops RIGHT NOW!” I hissed, aware now that the conservative neighbors’ windows were open, enjoying the fresh late-spring air. “Do you know how many laws you just broke?”
My son just looked at me. I realized I needed more information.
“OK,” I said. “What were you doing? Where were you going?”
He looked over at my older nephew, the one whose van my son had just hijacked.
“Um,” he said, “um, Wendy’s. We were hungry.”
I gazed blankly at him. “Wendy’s? Wendy’s? The Wendy’s that’s two blocks from here?” I said, pointing north. “Why, in Christ’s name, didn’t you just walk?”
He scuffed his shoe on the driveway. “We thought we’d get in trouble.”
“But you didn’t think STEALING a car would get you in trouble?” I slapped my hand to my forehead.
He just looked at me.
Turns out, my boy and his two teen cousins were hanging and decided they were starving. And between the three kitchens they had access to, apparently there was no food. So the nephew whose mom owns the blue van jokingly says they could drive to Wendy’s and get some food. He even grabs the spare keys. But then his Catholic guilt got the best of him, and he reneged.
Not so for his two cousins, who decided that because they’re Methodist, they don’t answer to the Catholic guilt and could go to Wendy’s anyway. So the Catholic nephew, while not condoning the trip, forked over some cash for them to buy him a burger.
And then I came home early. And the nephew left behind called the other two and reported that, and they left Wendy’s, dropping F-bombs all the way, without any food.
Not to brag, but I am proud of myself for staying calm. I knew that how I handled this was setting a precedent and that whatever consequence I handed down needed to be significant. So I bought some time.
“I’m taking your permit right now,” I said to my son, “and there’s going to be a consequence. But I’m not sure what. I’ll have to let you know after I talk to your dad.”
Man, for the next several hours, I had on my hands two of the most compliant teenage boys EVER. I could have asked them to do anything – wear a tutu, paint the house, pick up dog poop – and they’d have been happy to do it.
That night, after we’d finished dinner and the kids were getting ready for bed, I found my hubs in his home office and told him we needed to talk. I asked him to listen to everything I had to say before he asked any questions. And then I told him the story from beginning to end.
He was silent. Seething. I could see it in the set of his jaw. And then finally, he spoke. Of disappointment and sadness. Of mistakes that could have been serious. Of what the incident bodes for the future. Of our son waiting years before he could take his driving test.
But he never said a thing about his past. Or mine. Or his mother’s.
I cleared my throat. “I’m not 100 percent on this, but I’m pretty certain your mother took her brother’s car out for a joyride before she could legally drive,” I said.
He just looked at me. “So you see,” I said, “all this comes from your side of the family.”
He didn’t exactly think that was funny.
But we found out, as the story slowly leaked out, that most folks we know have a similar tale to tell – even our kindly pediatrician.
In the end, we settled on making the boy wait a month after his birthday before taking his driving test. And he has to make restitution to his aunt and uncle. This he’ll do by helping them work in their yard and around their house.
Some said the punishment wasn’t harsh enough. But my husband and I tend to think that people can learn from their mistakes and that the punishment shouldn’t be so severe that it overshadows the lesson.
And besides, I’m pretty sure the worst punishment was the dread our son felt as he turned that corner and saw his mother standing in the middle of the street, watching as he drove the “borrowed” van down the street.