You know when you get a new car and you become incredibly fastidiously perfectionistically nervous about it? Chips and pings and minor scratches that you can only see in a certain light (from a certain angle)? These are suddenly the stuff of nightmares. You basically hold your breath for six months — or until you get a teensy tiny dent — whichever comes first.
Being the mother of a new driver is pretty much the same thing.
We used to have a hard and fast rule that my daughter had to text me when she left place A and again when she reached place B. These succinct missives ("leaving," "here") assured that my panic attacks were as brief as possible. I can tell you exactly how many minutes it takes to get to the stable from our house. 32. At the half-hour mark, I start watching the back gate.
I've relaxed a bit in the 18+ months that she's been driving. I still watch the clock sometimes, but I stay pretty cool.
On the outside at least.
Here in Massachusetts, teen drivers aren't allowed to use their mobile phones while they're operating a vehicle. This is meant to keep them (and others) safer. It also means that any call that comes in while she's supposed to be behind the wheel is probably not good news. We had one such call last year. She was driving home through the neighboring town and — after pulling over, good girl — called to say the car was making a terrible noise. Luckily, I was home and able to rescue her. 'Turns out she had been driving on a flat tire. By the time she parked and I arrived, it was shredded beyond repair.
"I'm soooo sorry," she moaned when I showed her the source of the mystery noise.
Not a big deal, I assured her. "It's a thing, not a person." Her father replaced the tire on his way home from work and with only a minor hassle of car-juggling, it was back and on the road (with new tires) in short order.
After that first call, I actually breathed a sigh of relief. If she was going to have an on-road crisis — and we all have them sooner or later — this was a fairly benign one, right?
Fast-forward a year or so, and I was in the kitchen starting dinner when I got a text from her. "Leaving," she wrote. I smiled and didn't think much of it. Until about ten minutes later when the phone rang and caller ID told me who the caller was.
"I'm at Endicott," she told me (that's a local college). "I got rear-ended."
Breathe, I reminded myself. She's obviously alive and conscious and must still have at least one or two of her fingers or she couldn't have hit "Mom" on the speed dial.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, but the car is really bad."
"Okay, but you're all right. Is the other driver all right?"
"Yes, she's here. She's very nice."
"Okay, there are things you have to do now. You have to exchange licenses and registration and insurance and ... here's your father." I gave the phone to my husband, my hand shaking, grateful he was there to take over.
My daughter was right, the other driver was very nice. When she called a few minutes later to talk to us, she explained that it was "only a tap." But, given that my daughter was driving a Miata (my Miata, my first car, my bright red baby, 24-years-old and perfectly maintained) and the other driver was in a bigger, heavier vehicle, well ... there's no such thing as a "tap." The rear of my adorable sportscar was crumpled like an accordion.
"I'm sooooooo sorry," my daughter moaned about a half an hour later when she and what was left of the Miata arrived home. We could tell she'd been crying.
"It's a thing, not a person," I told her, hugging her tight. "It's okay. It's totally okay."
'Turns out it was totally totaled. In the face-off between damage and book value, 24-year-old cars don't usually win.
But, my enterprising husband has a plan. He's found pristine Miatas like ours listed at higher-than-book-value prices. He's found secondary market parts and body panels. He's found a mechanic a few towns over who is an expert in "antique" Miatas. My bright red baby will ride again. It may just be a while.
And, I'm all right with that. Because I have my real baby.
And she's totally okay.
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.