Facing His Fears

It’s official, Dude has been assimilated into society; he finally got his driver’s license.

I’m not sure if that’s a reason to celebrate or not.

This whole driving issue has been … interesting. On one hand, the kid is going on 18, it’s time to get his driver’s license. But on the other hand, why are we pushing him? I mean, it’s more stress on us (where is he, is he okay?), and certainly more expensive (our insurance just went up by half – ouch). But I guess we’re trying to conform to society’s idea of what is “normal” and we pushed for it. (Though I’m still not convinced that kids under 18 are mature enough to get their licenses to begin with).

In addition, Dude simply didn’t care about driving or getting his license. He still doesn’t care. He’s never cared about driving because as he puts it, “Where do I have to go?” He’s comfortable at home. He has everything he needs. All of his friends get online so he interacts with them there. He’s happy to be a hermit.

And I can’t say that I blame the kid. I’m the same way. I’m a homebody – I like to stay home and just hang out. I’ve never been one to go, go, go. (I mean, I HAVE, but given the choice, I’d rather just stay put).

One part of me wanted him to get it, the other part wanted him to remain dependent and innocent. But I can’t hold the kid back – he needs to take this first step into manhood. And I’ll be honest, it concerns me a bit that he doesn’t have the motivation to WANT to do anything other than to sit on his butt and play video games.

I’ve had to push for this from the very first step. I had to push him to get his permit, I had to push him to practice (there wasn’t really any complaining, but I got a lot of irritated grunts), and I had to push him to get his license. His permit expired this week – it was time, he was ready, but he could care less about the whole thing.

I’m having a hard time relating to his laissez faire attitude. I remember I couldn’t wait to get a car and I remember feeling powerful and so independent when it finally happened. (Of course, it got me into trouble, but that’s another story). I couldn’t wait to get out into the world and DO something.

Dude is not like that. At all. In fact, I’m pretty certain that when it comes time to get a job, I’ll have to push him into that arena, too.

I’ve already had to push him into taking the ACT test. (Which is coming up April 10th). Not that I expect him to go to college, though I think he should give it one year, but if he decides to go to college, he’ll have that requirement out of the way.

I don’t understand this kid’s unwillingness to grow up. I don’t understand my desire to SEE him grow up so fast.

It’s a confusing tug o’ war.

At any rate …

One of Dude’s friends recommended taking the test in Republic. He said it wasn’t as busy as Springfield and the route was a lot easier – he wouldn’t have to worry about 20 mph speeds or one-way streets.

So, we took him up on that suggestion. Dude and I went up to Republic Tuesday to take his test.

And we realized, after waiting for THREE hours, it was a huge mistake.

Republic only tests Tuesdays and Fridays. I have no idea why – maybe it’s because they’re a smaller town and there’s not as much of a demand to offer it every day, maybe they simply don’t have the funds to offer it every day. Who knows. But we went on Tuesday.

And considering this is spring break for nearly every area school? We weren’t the only people to have this idea.

We waited for three hours.

Three looooooong hours of hanging around a community center until it was his turn. (We even had time to go to lunch, come back and STILL wait two hours).

That was probably three of the longest hours of my entire life.

Finally, it was Dude’s turn.

In some ways, it was a good thing that we had to wait so long. It gave Dude a chance to settle down and control his nerves. He’s a really nervous kid. He doesn’t like putting himself in any situation where he feels like he’s not in 100% control. (I wonder where he gets that from). As a result, he doesn’t like to drive, ride a bike, or fly. All of those activities freak him out because there is a possibility of something happening to him.

Which is understandable, there is a risk, but there’s a risk that your hair dryer will blow up in your face when you dry your hair in the morning, too. Life is full of risks. You can’t hide in your room all your life to avoid these risks, either.

That is Dude’s biggest obstacle, his fear of the unknown. So you can imagine what teaching Dude has been like. As long as I told him what to do, what to think, he was okay. But the moment I shrugged and said, “you’re the driver,” he would freak out.

Part of his attitude has been my fault. I’ve over protected the boy. No question about it. I HAVE done his thinking for him. I HAVEN’T allowed him to simply be himself and that is something I bitterly regret. Don’t be a helicopter parent – trust me on this. But some of it has to do with genetics. Nervous personalities sort of run in our family, too.

So it’s been a challenge to try and teach Dude to work through those fears. It’s like Kevin says, “the best way to teach him to get over that fear is to face it.”

Forcing him to take this driver’s test was certainly forcing him to face one of his fears.

He’s a good driver, don’t get me wrong, but if something unusual happens (construction, accident), he freaks out. He’s terrified of making the wrong decision and I keep telling him, that’s just part of life. Ninety-seven percent of the time, he’ll make the right decision. But there will come a point when that other three percent will happen. He will make a wrong decision, he’s only human.

And that’s another issue, his personal feelings of failure if he’s not perfect. Again. Totally my fault. I’ve expected him to be perfect, I guess. I’ve been trying, especially these last several years, to ease up on my expectations. Which has been hard, because I don’t want the kid not to give his best, but there comes a time when you just have to call it quits.

Trying to find that balance with him has been soooooo hard for me. He gives up easily. And we all know that life requires more effort than that. So, how do you teach your children to try their best but that it’s okay, at some point, to accept second best?

I wasn’t worried that he wouldn’t know the rules. I wasn’t worried about his actual driving, if anything, he tends to lean toward the timid side of driving, but I was worried that he would work himself up to such a lather that his nerves would ultimately be his undoing.

My heart pounded for him the entire time he was gone. In fact, I felt out of breath when he finally returned. After watching several other kids go through this routine, I knew that if the kid came back in to get me, and the instructor waited outside, it meant failure. But if the kid walked in with the instructor, that meant they passed.

I pictured Dude walking in with the instructor. I could see it in my mind’s eye. I KNEW it would happen. I’ve watched so many kids his age around his school driving to and from school and they’re just … terrible drivers. He is such a good driver when compared to his peers, he really is. He would totally be fine … if he could just get past his nervousness.

The doors opened. I saw Dude and the instructor walk in. My heart jumped. He passed!

“Mom, let’s talk,” the instructor said.

My heart plummeted. He didn’t pass.

We walked into the testing room and the instructor faced me.

“I’m going to pass him, but there are a few things he needs to watch out for,” he said. “He failed to signal in the parking lot (??), he failed to look and signal as we passed a stationary truck in our lane, and he went a little too fast – 35 in a 30 mph zone.”

I blinked. To me, these were nit picky things, but I wasn’t about to dispute him.

“Okay.” Really, what else could I say?

I mean, I KNOW you have to do everything by the book when you take that test, exaggerate the looking in the mirrors, use your signal for EVERYTHING, keep the speed under the speed limit and wait a full three seconds at stop signs, but honestly, who drives like that?

Anyway, he passed. And we were both relieved. I knew that he didn’t do some of those things because he was nervous – I mean, who doesn’t get nervous with a strange person sitting next to you, writing things down and only telling you turn here, or stop here. It’s nerve wracking for anyone.

And though I’m glad he passed his test, I’m MORE proud of him because he faced his fear and conquered it. (He was so pale after the test I thought he might pass out – seriously). I know this is only one baby step to the rest of his life, but it’s a beginning.

In addition to praising him for passing, I also made a (big) point of making sure he was proud of himself. Taking that test was about so much more than the actual driving part for Dude – it was about managing himself and getting through something that honest to God scared him.

We can now cross one battle off his life score card.

Congratulations, Dude. You did it!