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How Driving Is Like Parenting

Photograph by Twenty20

The past few weeks, I have been driving my daughter to various camp programs. In the span of two particular days, I had three close calls on the road. Far too close for comfort.

One morning, as I drove home after dropping her off, sheets of plywood began to fly off the trailer hooked to a pick-up truck I had the misfortune of following. The wood had not been tied down. It was being whipped up high in the air by the wind and was dropping into the middle of morning rush hour. Cars swerved every which way. Tires screeched. The truck, seemingly oblivious, kept on driving.

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That same afternoon, after I picked my child up from camp and we were driving home together, we witnessed an intense road rage incident. A slow driver in the left lane caused another driver to lose it. The car veered across four lanes, sped past all traffic on the far right, then shot across the highway back to the left. All in a matter of seconds.

I anticipated the angry driver would likely get in front of the slow one and slam on the breaks. So I slowed down to lengthen the amount of space between my car and the one in front of me, which was just behind the slow driver. Then the angry driver did the unthinkable—came to a complete stop in the left lane of the interstate.

Once again, tires screeched and cars veered all over the road. The angry driver rolled down the window, flipped the slow driver off, then sped back across all lanes of traffic and exited the highway. I had never seen anything like it in all my years of driving.

We can never be 100 percent confident it is enough. Yet we have to let go.

The very next day, as I was preparing to get on the interstate to head home from camp, I had to pull over to let three police cars speed by, sirens screaming.

Once I got on the highway, I could see police cars converging from every direction. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and, eventually, we passed about a dozen police cars in the grass median, surrounding one civilian car.

That night, I learned it had been a drunk driver. Going the wrong way on the interstate. In the same lane I had been driving in with my child in the back seat. He hadn't even been able to stand up when police got him out of his vehicle.

Miraculously, no one was injured in any of these incidents. There weren't even any accidents. But it was terrifying. For days all I could think was, "What if?"

I also thought of how driving is a lot like parenting. You can do everything right. Follow all the rules. Take no chances. Then a drunk driver comes barreling down the wrong side of the interstate in the middle of the afternoon.

There is only so much we can control. And that is scary. In life, and as a parent.

When it comes to our kids, their well-being is our topmost priority. It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that no matter how careful we are, elements out of our control can come along and turn our worlds upside down.

After the drunk-driving incident, I was very shaken. I didn't even want to go back out on the road. But that is not an option, obviously. We have to go out into the world, no matter how scary it is. We have to live our lives and not allow the scary, "What ifs?" to paralyze us. And we need to teach our children to do the same.

It can be easy at time to just want to hold them close and not let them leave the house, to shield them from all the scary things out there.

As they grow and we work to prepare them to go out into the world on their own some day, we try to help them develop, among other things, self-reliance. Courage. Resilience. Good judgment.

We can never be 100 percent confident it is enough. Yet we have to let go. They have to get behind the wheel and drive. Out onto the interstate. Literally and figuratively.

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My child has no camp scheduled this week, but we will get back out on the road together. I will not let fear stop me. I will take a deep breath, hold tight to the steering wheel and drive. While belting out, "Let It Go" at the top of my lungs.

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