We have just finished two days of Passover seders in our house – two days of my standing on my feet cooking, all day long, and then sitting down to recount the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt. Two days of being with good friends and enjoying the rituals that herald spring and rebirth.
The overriding theme of Passover is liberation. And while my two younger kids are still enchanted by the stories of the plagues (frogs jumping everywhere) and of the parting of the Red Sea as the Jews escaped from Egypt, my teenager had a different form of liberation on his mind.
He was thinking about driving. He turned 15 years, 9 months old several days before Passover began, and in Maryland, this is the age at which he can apply for his permit.
He spent the two days of seder studying the manual, so help me Pharaoh. And he didn’t just study the manual quietly in a corner. He came to the seder table with questions, much like the four children in the Passover story.
The first child is wise. He is the child who asked me "how far do you need to stay back from the car in front of you?" This is an easy question to answer while I had my hands dipped in matzah ball dough and an important one to understand as you're thinking about getting behind the wheel of great, hulking piece of steel.
The second child is wicked. He is the one who, after the first part of the seder was over, decided it was time to take out the manual and start peppering his mother with questions that he knew she was way too tired to answer. He wanted to call attention to the fact that he was doing this big, cool thing. Not the best way to get your mother engaged in your project.
The third child is simple. He is the child who, despite being too cool for school at almost-16-years-old, is still your kid, and still doesn't really understand all the things that adults do. He is the child who asked, "can you take me out driving today? Tomorrow? " Without realizing that he needed a form signed by his attendance office in order to get his permit, and therefore would not be able to take the permit test until after spring break was over. Perhaps this should be better classified as the attention-challenged child.
Finally, there is the child who can't ask questions for himself. This is the child who doesn’t understand all the various sixth senses he will need to learn how to drive – like being able to tell, out of the corner of your eye, that the car next to you is about to cut you off – and keeps thinking if he just studies and masters the manual, he will know everything he'll ever need to know.
It's very hard for me to believe that I have a teen who is ready to drive. Having not learned until I was already an adult, and having many fears about driving, this is going to be my own personal Egypt as a parent. I am going to have to overcome my nervousness and allow him to make mistakes take responsibility for them. Eventually, I will have to let him out in a car by himself.
Friends who have already gone through this process assure me that it is great to have another driver in the house. Someone to run out for milk, or to return books to the library, or to take his brother and sister to activities.
For me, it is enough that he is learning how to drive at an appropriate age. That he is doing what he is supposed to be doing in the shadows of his home safety net – he is spreading his wings, learning independence, and taking the first big steps towards adulthood. As we move towards this new phase in our family's life together, I am grateful for my teen's ambition and desire to learn how to do this very adult thing. He is eager to take on the mantle of freedom, and we are ready to let him do so.
In the seder, we sing a song called Dayenu, translated as "it would have been enough." It would have been enough if God had taken the Jews out of Egypt. But he did more. It would have been enough if he had brought justice upon the Egyptians. But he did more. And so on.
So my Passover prayer is this – let it be enough for him to learn how to drive safely and surely, and let him find his wings on the back of our 2008 Matrix chariot, but not fly it too close to the sun. Let him learn how to find his way around our neighborhood, and then the region, and then finally, on the road to college and adulthood. Let him be a model of a good driver, and let him take to the roads with assurance and success.
And it will be enough if he, unlike his mother, learns how to parallel park.
Photo by Wendy Piersall via Flickr