I once saw a nature documentary about birds that make their nests at the top of a towering cliff. Though the cliff provides nearly foolproof protection from predators, it does present one teensy logistical problem. By the time the parents need to leave the nest to go get food, the fledglings’ wings are not quite up to the task of sustaining them in flight. Undeterred, the parents leap off and fly to the bottom. The fledglings spend some time peeping plaintively and then, one by one, they walk to the edge of the nest and step off into the abyss. Chick after chick hurtles helplessly down, their tiny feathered bodies crashing and thumping into rocks along the way. Shockingly, many actually pick themselves up at the bottom of the cliff, fluff up their feathers and waddle off in search of their parents. The rest, well, don’t.
The human equivalent of this venture is handing a sixteen-year-old a drivers license in Los Angeles. I understand why the birds haven’t gotten around to figuring out a better way to get their offspring moving, but seriously, couldn’t we all put our heads together and come up with something slightly less suicidal for our teenagers?
Today, as I was sitting in the sun on a concrete bench at the Van Nuys DMV while
Middle took his behind-the-wheel driving test, the fear that he wouldn’t pass the test battled for supremacy with the dread that he would.
When I took Oldest for his test two years ago, I actively hoped he would fail, since he had barely driven the required hours, had taken a generally cavalier attitude toward the whole endeavor and almost got in an accident on the way to the DMV for the test. Naturally, he passed.
Middle, on the other hand, has taken every possible opportunity to drive, practiced diligently with his driving teacher and was so close to hyperventilating while we waited for the examiner, that I suggested he do some pretend scales on an imaginary clarinet. He humored me but said it did not help.
As I sat there, I tried to remember that there will be lessons for him either way, that the job of mothering is not to ward of pain and disappointment, but to be there when life hands them out.
Oh, the smile on Middle’s face as he walked back across the parking lot after the test was wide indeed.
"I thought I had failed," he admitted sheepishly, "I hit the curb when I was parking." I guess you have to hit an actual person to fail.
So now they stretch in front of me again, the days of counting the minutes to when he should be home, the nights lying awake listening for the engine to break the quiet on our dark and silent street.
I did get a tiny, weekend long reprieve though. It turns out our insurance agent left early for the holidays and wasn’t there to take my call telling him to add Middle to our policy. So, we have one more, blessed, weekend in the nest.
Now that is what I call a Merry Christmas.