All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last Tuesday morning, my son asked if he could borrow the car. It's a request I've gotten pretty used to in the past eight months since he's had his license. But this time he wasn't asking for the keys to head over to a friend's place or to pick up a sandwich from Fraboni's. Instead, he informed me he needed the car to drive to Milwaukee to stay overnight at kid's house that I don't know in order to prepare for an upcoming high school Latin convention.
The whole request made me extremely uneasy. The fact that my kid was planning to sleep over at a stranger's house more than 75 miles away certainly gave me pause, but it was a pause I figured I could work through. I think deep down my son could tell that the thing that was really causing my blood pressure to shoot the roof was the thought of him driving alone on the highway.
Now, my kid's actually a decent driver for a 17-year-old. And he'd practiced Interstate driving many times with my husband serving as coach from the passenger seat. For all practical purposes, he was as ready as he'd ever be to tackle I-94 on his own.
If only my son had asked me to trade in our cat for a boa constrictor, I just might have said yes. I am known for hand-carrying assorted creepy crawly things up from our basement to the safety of the backyard. He could have told me he was planning to go skydiving, bungee jumping, or had booked trans-Atlantic passage to run with the bulls in Spain, and I would have given him a high five.
No, none of those things would have been a problem because I am not afraid of snakes, spiders or extreme sports.
Instead, my bravery Achilles heel has always been highway driving.
I don't just like to shop local, I guess you could say I prefer to drive local, as well. I am overwhelmed by the, what feels to me, insurmountable task of merging, changing lanes and reading exit signs all at very high speeds. And while I've never actually watched videos of cars darting about on the Autobahn, I am pretty sure doing so would produce in me a similar physical reaction as viewing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
So as I stood in the kitchen last week, it took every ounce of my being not to allow my own fears to get the best of me -- or him -- and I gave him my blessing as well as the car keys. I told him to use his mirrors regularly, check his blind spot often and to please, pretty please, lock his cell phone away as not to be a temptation.
He promised he'd stay focused, told me he'd be home by three the next day and waved confidently (my gosh, keep both hands on the steering wheel, please!) as he pulled out of the driveway.
My heart skipped two beats about an hour later when I got a call from an unknown Milwaukee number (darn you, political pollsters). But otherwise, his time away, at least from my perspective, was relatively uneventful. And, as I hope you've guessed by now, the story ends well. He returned on Wednesday a half hour early. The tank was filled and there was not a single new scratch on either the car or him.
We had both survived -- he his first solo trip at above (but not much above, I hope) 55 mph, and me, my projected fears.
And I guess I should be really thankful this phobia hasn't turned out to be hereditary. Because next month when he and I head down to Chicago for the weekend, we can skip the Van Galder. My son can take the wheel.