Definition Of Terror: Riding Shotgun With A 15-Year-Old
A version of this originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on May 29, 2004.
When news broke this week about the latest terrorist threat, I heard a cable news anchor intone the obvious.
"The world is a dangerous place."
"You have no idea," I muttered.
Yes, there's much to fear, bombings, global warming and hurricanes. Then there is this: My daughter, 15, just got her learner's permit.
That means girl who says "like" constantly, who can't read a road map and who set a pot holder ablaze cooking dinner this week, is now operating a 4,000-pound machine that goes 90 miles per hour.
Like, you've been warned.
In the past week, I've logged a dozen terrifying hours helplessly strapped into the front passenger seat of my faithful 14-year-old Volvo. Behind the steering wheel sits a kid who once looked adorable in her baby carrier in the back of the same car.
For those of you who have never taught a teenager to drive, words cannot convey the icy sensation that envelops you as trees, cars and pedestrians appear in the road and all you can do is slam your foot uselessly into the floor mat. And scream.
Don't mind me. It's the fear talking.
I once flew with the Blue Angels. I was in Belfast during The Troubles. I've been on midnight rides with the cops.
But nothing in my life prepared me for the raw terror of riding shotgun with my daughter.
We began our driving lessons slowly. We haunted vacant parking lots, where she quickly learned to accelerate, brake and aim in the general direction of painted white lines.
Hours of unexciting parking practice led to that inevitable moment when the driver demanded to, well, drive. On roads. Where unsuspecting, God-fearing Americans were going about their business.
I tried to talk her out of it.
"Let's just stay in parking lots for the first year," I begged. "I'll give you a thousand bucks. Two thousand."
"Relax, Mom," she said, shooting me a broad smile and a very Virginia Beach hair toss.
So we headed to the country. There we found quiet, untraveled roads.
But a bad thing happened, We missed a turn and were trapped on a two-lane highway with a heart-stopping series of sharp turns. Cars were coming at us in both directions, at high speeds. There was no place to stop.
"Why didn't I make a big 'Student Driver' sign and stick it on the roof?" I groaned.
Suddenly, I glanced to the right and saw a yawning gully bordered by immense oak trees. No shoulder at all, and we were inches from the precipice.
"Move to the left," I said through gritted teeth.
Her eyes were riveted to the road. She couldn't hear.
"Don't fear the white lines," I hyperventilated.
Still, she hugged the deep ditch.
"We're going to die!" I shrieked.
Shortly after, we found a place to stop. She slammed on the brakes. My chin hit my chest and snapped back. I saw a cervical collar in my future.
"Mom, there's sweat dripping from your hair," she worried. "Are you OK?"
"No, I'm not OK," I squeaked. "I need a drink."
With a trembling hand, I pointed toward a vending machine in front of a nearby building.
"I'll buy," she chirped. "What do you want?"
Cuervo Gold, I thought. "Diet Coke," I said.
As she slid out from behind the steering wheel, rivers of perspiration streamed down my back. My left eye twitched. My right thigh was in spasms from pressing my imaginary panic pedal.
I looked on the bright side. We survived.
Our next outing was better.
She continued to stay serene. I brought along a paper bag for my breathing.
With the long holiday weekend ahead, my kid's merrily planning more driving lessons.
This is indeed a dangerous place.
Like, run for your lives.