It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.
~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
The nice thing about getting married is that you inherit a whole new set of people to fret about.
My niece, for example, is aflutter about learning to drive. According to the State Department of Motor Vehicles she will be eligible to drive within the next thirty days. This is impossible, of course, because she is only eighteen months old. Okay, sure, the calendar says she is going to turn sixteen soon, but I know she’s only eighteen months old because I just met her yesterday, or so it seems, when my husband-then-boyfriend took me to meet his sister and her “baby.” She was a cherubic toddler resplendent in a bride’s costume for Halloween, I was the new-girlfriend unaware of my future as a bride. Now the years have telescoped in on themselves to bring us to this place where she will, inexplicably, be sixteen years old and entrusted with a driver’s license.
I think I just gave her a Barney the Dinosaur toy telephone last Christmas didn’t I? Oh no, that’s right. Last Christmas was the Victoria’s Secret tote. We’ve come a long way baby, indeed.
Practice. Nieces, I think, are good practice for daughters. There a million little things – and big things – a meddlesome aunt like myself would love to foist off on my unsuspecting niece. In 700 words, however, things get boiled down to the basics and I can pretty much sum it up nicely in two: be safe.
A car is an awesome responsibility. Yet, like most teens my niece has undoubtedly heard all the “near miss” and “I can’t believe I walked away from that!” stories that families inevitably tell. Don’t we all grow up hearing about how Uncle Hooty leapt from an out-of-control truck and walked away with only a scratch? We thrill to tales of how grandma once drove cross-country in station wagon packed full of kids, cargo, and a dog on her lap for three-fourths of the trip that blocked her view of the roadway for at least half.
I am fully guilty for my own “meet cute” automotive story. Mine revolves around the fact that on my way to meet my now-husband for our first date, I completely destroyed not one car – but two. The “cute” part is that I shook off having totaled two vehicles due to nothing more than not paying attention, and asked ever so sweetly if the nice officer would pretty please drop me off at the pre-determined meeting place of my eagerly awaiting first date? (For the record, the nice officer did).
I want my niece to understand that my “meet cute” story could have ended tragically. That runaway trucks are as likely to kill you as leave you without a scratch. That driving across the country with a dog on your lap is probably a bad idea.
Do as I say, not as I do, indeed.
Warn. Our hearts quicken and throats tighten as we open the newspaper to yet another story of the tragic loss of teen drivers and their passengers.
We talk and we lecture and we preach and we pray. We tell them to be careful. Be cautious. Be smart. Be safe. We tell them to just say no to every and anything that could cause them harm. Yet teens, by design, seem to live in the moment. You just can’t seem to tell them that life is a great big wonderful ball of risk.
Humor us, I want to say. You seem – and feel – invincible. Only time, God willing, will show you how fragile life really is. Life is too short, and it can be over in a heartbeat. Don’t take your safety or your number of days on this Earth for granted. As you head out the door, stop what you are doing, and remind yourself that you love your life, and your family loves you.
Until then, I worry. While every young driver behind the wheel isn’t your niece, or mine, perhaps we’d all drive just a bit more carefully if we pretended that they were.
And in the coming months, please drive with special care because mine, after all, is barely two.
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