Some of the best times with my son were in the car en route to school, a friend's house or sports practice. Whether it was a five-minute drive or bumper-to-bumper rush hour, we would listen to the radio (usually his pick of stations) and chat about our days. These weren't necessarily deep or detailed conversations but were checkpoints just the same.
These drive-time opportunities started to dwindle as our son made friends who had driver's licenses in high school. It's almost a rite of passage that high schoolers become less reliant on their parents for transportation and take pride in riding with friends and ultimately in getting their own license and wheels to become the driver. It's all part of a natural transition to adulthood.
I think every parent says a few more prayers once their kid is driving (or is a passenger in another teen's car). In time, we become more comfortable and we understand that a few fender benders or speeding tickets are all part of growing up. We breathe a sigh of relief that nothing more tragic happened.
Don't (fill in the blank) and drive
Often the first driver's license is a prompt for the "don't drink and drive" conversation and a host of other parental reminders about safety, responsibility and smart choices. Having been through this with our older daughter, we were cognizant and confident in the realities of this life phase.
We believed our son would be an excellent, and responsible, driver. When he turned 16, we bought him a used car so he could get himself to and from sports practices and school, including classes he attended at the University of Minnesota for college credit. He was smart, popular, athletic and very deserving of the privilege of having a car, and it made his academic and sports opportunities more convenient for all of us.
Attitude not accidents
In hindsight, the car paralleled his problem in the making - not in terms of accidents or tickets. Rather, the car punctuated his attitude; he viewed it as a right not a privilege.
His behavior and actions were noticeably changing, and along with it, the car was becoming a trash receptacle and gym locker. We'd go round and round in talking about the rules. (And remember at this point we had few if any suspicions that he was smoking pot, so it never advanced beyond these frustrating exchanges until the day after prom when we searched his car and found the evidence of not a one-time experiment, but indication of ongoing, regular use).
Finally taking away the carDid we take away the car? No. Even temporarily? No. Because he admitted to smoking a few times and we felt he knew we were serious. Because we believed him. Because his transportation was convenient. Because not having him go to sports just meant more time on his hands to engage in poor-choice activities. Because his brain was gifted enough that the high school didn't offer the challenging courses he was qualified to take and therefore he had to have a way to get to the U. Because he said he never drove high. In reading this, I realized we believed because we wanted to not because it was the truth.
This pattern continued for nearly a year until he crossed the line and we took the car. That decision wreaked havoc but we stood strong. He rode his bike. We gave him rides. His friends picked him up.
He was bitter and resentful. It was an awful time. We engaged in family counseling and began to outline a contract for living at home. What a wasted effort. He had no intention of respecting and abiding by our stupid rules. The effort took weeks and yielded no positive outcomes, so he remained without transportation and we wondered was to come.
In a moment of semi confession and contrition shrouded with tears, he announced his intent to return to college and desire to get back in shape so he could play sports. We were so hopeful even if we were skeptical. We believed his good intentions, but were concerned if he could follow through.
It felt like a turning point, so we gave back the car, again with rules and expectations. And within a matter of days, the whole pattern began again. Paraphernalia. Trash. Unexplained mileage.
There is little doubt in my mind that he was part of the latest statistics on driving while high, which just upsets me terribly but also reinforces the ultimate decision that we made and that we're sticking with: No car, no way.
When he was kicked out of college, we made a family vehicle available to him for job interviews and for going to see a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. In time, as we saw the problem worsen, we simply stopped making the car available.
He often tells us that not having a car has made it impossible for him to get a job. He takes the bus, and it does have its limitations, but he gets around. During a conversation this past fall, he said he understood why we took away the car and acknowledged that he broke the rules even if he still felt the rules were stupid. The more telling part of that conversation was that he said he came to believe we wouldn't take it away because we waited so long to carry through on that consequence so that when we finally did, it took him by surprise.
I'm back to providing some rides for him from time to time: from drug treatment some afternoons, to a job interview, to our house for dinner and back to his shelter. We listen to the radio (sometimes his station, more often than not, my station). We talk and it's still a valuable checkpoint, but the dashboard reading continues to concern me.