There are lots of ways having kids makes a person feel old. Most of them have to do with crappy music or current TV depictions of high school, not to mention the Harry Potter view of relationship, which I describe elsewhere.

Another way is when you compare a milestone from your childhood to that same milestone as your kids experience it—and the two have nothing in common. And you think, “Wow. Am I that old?”

Case in point: When I was a teenager, driving went like this: As a sophomore, you took driver’s ed. As a regular class. In school. Driver’s ed included both the written work and driving time with an instructor. At 15½, you took the written test and got your permit. This cost maybe $10. You drove around for a while, whenever you could convince a grown-up to get in the car with you. At 16, you took the written test and got your license—another $10. Then your life was divided between doing errands for your parents—usually your mother, and usually involving shuffling your younger siblings to gymnastics or piano or little league—and taking off with your friends, usually with no destination in mind but just for the sheer joy of being out on your own and DRIVING.

Fast-forward 30 years, and here is what driving looks like for my kids: First, you need to take an online course—there are no school driver’s ed classes anymore. This costs anywhere from $50-150, depending on whether you can find a discount code. Assuming you pass the course—if not, you need to take it again, and no, there is no “second try” discount—you get a certificate in the mail. Certificate in hand, you go to the DMV to take your written test. This I believe is another $30, but don’t quote me. It certainly isn’t 10. Then you get your permit.*

Then you need to do six hours with a professional instructor. The cheapest one I found was $65 per hour, for a grand total of $390. The instructor needs to sign off on the permit.

Then you need to do 50 hours of driving with a licensed adult over 25. Fifty hours probably takes about a month in your average suburb, and is probably a couple of round-trips in L.A. Here in the Bay Area, with our awesome public transportation, it took us over six months for each kid to get his 50 hours. And that’s with me making up trips just for the heck of it. (Global warming, anyone?)**

Fifty hours later, you go back to the DMV for the driving test. If you fail after 50 hours, this is not a good sign for your competence as a driver in the years to come. Assuming you pass, congrats, you have a license!

So now you can hop in the car with your buddies, right? Au contraire. Unless you are 18, for the first year you have your license, you can only drive by yourself, or with at least one licensed driver over 18 in the car. So if you want to take off with your buddies, buddy-mom (or uncle or older sibling) needs to go with you. Not exactly the exhilaration of freedom.

You can, however, be coerced into errands by your dad.***

So overall, getting your license today is a lose-lose for the young driver, dad’s wallet, and the car, which keeps appearing in front of the house with new, mysterious scratches and dings.


*This really happened: Daveon took his course certificate to the DMV for the written test. The very nice DMV woman told us that this course was not approved by the DMV, but she was going to let him take the test anyway. I asked her for a list of approved courses, so we didn’t run into this same problem with his brother. She said, without even blinking, “Oh, we don’t have a list. We can only tell you whether the course is approved after you bring in the certificate.”

**You may wonder why, given our wonderful public transportation, the kids needed to get licenses at all. My reasons are simple: One, if I ever fall down the stairs, I want them to be able to get me to the hospital, stat. And two, their athletic activities take them far and afield, well out of the reach of our bus and train service. You only have to drive your kid an hour to the same ice rink three days in a row once, and suddenly having other driver options starts to look pretty appealing.

***There are exceptions. If you get your license at 17 or later, you only have to wait until your 18th birthday to lose the restrictions—not an entire year. And drivers under 18 can drive younger siblings in cases of “parental need.” Believe me, we had a lot of parental need in those first driving years.

Next: 2 on 1

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