(learner’s)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Claire Knowles Re­view theaus­tralian.com.au

It’s a milestone that just creeps up on you. It had seemed far away on the hori­zon. One minute we’re watch­ing Post­man Pat and trip­ping over Lego, the next I’m watch­ing my man-child proudly peel­ing back those yel­low and black “L” stick­ers and fix­ing them care­fully to the wind­screen of the fam­ily car. Yes, the fam­ily car. The one that mum and dad drive, into which he, the child, has al­ways been safely fas­tened and taken to friendly, fa­mil­iar places: kinder, school, the park, Granny’s house, the su­per­mar­ket.

That’s just how it’s al­ways been, that’s the sta­tus quo. Co­cooned in a vac­uum of parental airbags. So in­stead of my heart swelling with pride, I feel the bile ris­ing in my throat as the sheer terror sets in and the nau­sea washes through me in waves. A new era is dawn­ing. A new world or­der awaits. The road to in­de­pen­dence is here right now and ready to be driven. I’d better buckle up for the ride.

Those early drives are mi­cro-man­aged. Ven­tur­ing out on quiet back roads in the early hours of Sun­day morn­ings is all I can han­dle. I try not to talk too much, but guide where nec­es­sary, while all the time star­ing wide-eyed at the road in front. I shrink back in my seat, clammy palms on my lap, as I try my best not to adopt the brace po­si­tion. I try to speak in a steady voice, care­fully choos­ing my words. My por­trayal of calm and my con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing de­meanour is Os­car-wor­thy but be­trays ev­ery symp­tom of panic that I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing within.

I’d like to say it’s get­ting eas­ier, but it’s not. The req­ui­site prac­tice hours seem to take for­ever. Ten min­utes as a su­per­vis­ing driver takes 10 years off your life. Now we are stretching the bound­aries with busier and faster roads, and driv­ing in the rain. Driv­ers tail­gate us and then over­take, en­gines scream­ing, clearly aim­ing to in­tim­i­date, but I’m pow­er­less to pro­tect my son from their an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour.

The day will ar­rive, I know, when he goes solo, and the great­est tests are still to come. In life, as in driv­ing, I won­der if I have de­liv­ered as a par­ent. Will he know when to hang back and give way to others, and when to put his foot down and push him­self for­ward? Will he be vig­i­lant and cour­te­ous to others in his path and will he be alert to dan­gers lurk­ing in his blind spot? Has he got the right ve­hi­cle to get him where he wants to go? Has he got the nav­i­ga­tion skills to find the roads ahead that he must travel to live a full and re­ward­ing life?

It’s time to let go. The boy needs to be the man. I will wave him off with a public smile and silently pray he’ll en­joy a safe and happy drive. (But I may just keep hold of the Lego, for now.)

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