Drive me crazy

Whenever I whine about how much I chauffeur my kids from place to place, I always hear from some Older and Wiser Parent who says sagely, "Wait until THEY learn to drive. Then you'll have a whole new set of worries."

That day is still far off (my older son is only 10), but already I break out in hives every time I think about my easily distracted boys behind the wheel of two tons of speeding steel.

I was reminded of this recently when I took the boys to Home Depot.

Usually, I avoid the huge hardware warehouses on Saturdays, when they're overrun with desperate do-it-yourselfers making their third shopping trip of the day because they still don't have the right part. But I decided to brave it because of a household emergency. A kitchen cabinet door had come off in my hand and we were fresh out of cabinet hinges here at the house.

My wife was at work, so I had to take the boys with me.

I told myself this would be a nice father-son opportunity, a chance to expose the boys to the wonders of tools and the aroma of plywood, a playful time of dodging those beeping forklifts that zip around the store. The boys saw it differently. To them, shopping was a dread interruption in a day already packed full of cartoons and play.

As we entered the store, the 10-year-old announced he would push the shopping cart, using that petulant tone that told me: He'll push the cart or he'll be a surly pain in the posterior the whole time. I let him push the cart, but only after numerous warnings about how the store was crowded and how he'd have to be careful not to run down any beefy carpenters.

I'd made a list of items we needed at the store, trying to save myself future trips, and the list included a couple of leaf rakes. Soon, my son was weaving through the throngs of frustrated homeowners with long, wooden rake handles protruding from the cart. I scampered around the cart, apologizing to those who were goosed by the rake handles and urgently cautioning my son against putting somebody's eye out. He doggedly hung on to the shopping cart's controls as it bumped into aisle displays and raked hanging items off into the floor.

At one point, the future flashed before my eyes and I had a vision of myself sitting in the passenger seat of a car, my fair-haired son behind the wheel, that same look of grim determination on his face as he ran other motorists off the road. It was enough to make my heart seize up.

I'd had the same sensation during the summer, when I took my boys to a video arcade. They took turns at an elaborate 3-D machine that let them race speedboats through stone-walled canals and around obstacles of all sorts. Both boys approached the game the same way: Set the throttle on bat-outta-hell and run over anything that gets in the way. Other racing boats, idle fishermen, the occasional water carnival, all were creamed by my sons' boats. When they were done, they boasted about their scores and said to me, "Didn't we do great?"

I replied somberly, "You're never driving a car of mine."

The 10-year-old's confident smile faltered. "What about when I get my driver's license?"

"You can have a license when you're 30," I said. "And you can buy your own car for crashing around in."

He seemed daunted for a second, then the light came back into his eyes. "I want one of those speedboats."

I started to ask him if he planned to live in Venice, but I bit my tongue. Let the youngster dream of driving. Someday he'll be out there on the open road (or canal), whether I like it or not. Let's just hope he doesn't have rake handles sticking out his windows.

For the record, when I went back to the hardware store later that same day, I left the boys at home. And I didn't even use a shopping cart. I only had to buy one small item -- the correct hinge for that cabinet door.

(Editor's note: The kid in this 2000 column is now driving, and it's just as terrifying as I predicted back then. I didn't teach him to drive; I'm too nervous. Mom had to do it.)

No comments: