About nine years ago, I spent one of my favorite summer vacations trying to grant some wishes. The first one I was able to help fulfill was teaching my son how to ride a bike. The look on his face as he took his first steps to freedom was priceless and one I never want to forget.
This Thursday he took the next big step and passed his drivers license test. He doesn't smile the big broad smiles the way he used to, but you could tell he was pretty damn excited.
The test itself was excrutiating. Excrutiating! Oh. At least, for me. For one thing, the week before, Theo dyed his hair blue. See that bicycle helmet in the photo? It's that same exact color. Maybe bluer.
(By the way, I am secretly posting this photo. Theo made me promise I woudn't post it on Facebook. This isn't Facebook, though, right? But I did insist he let me take a photo. "Why?" he asked. "For future blackmail," I replied. And he still let me do it!)
"Do you think the test giver will get mad when he finds out I have blue hair?" Theo asked as we walked to the car and waited for him to arrive. "I know he's going to ask me to take my hat off."
"Hmmm. Don't take it off unless he says you have to," I replied.
So, we worried about that. And besides the blue hair thing, the DMV where we took the test had the worst parking lot imaginable. Don't believe me? Just look at it!
Okay, okay, maybe it wasn't THAT bad. Maybe that's only what it felt like from a father's eyes. However, the spaces to park were small and tight and no one semed capable of parking between the lines. As I sat there stuffed in the back of my Mustang waiting for the test giver to arrive, I worried he would fail before he even got out of the parking lot. Simply trying to back out of the space.
After five minutes of waiting for that slowpoke test giver, I forced Theo to back out of the space we were in and move to a safer spot. I wanted him to have every edge he could possibly have.
Of course as he backed out, I started over-engineering that. "No, back up straighter, STRAIGHTER!"
"Dad, I am backing up straighter!"
"Are you sure? It doesn't look...ah, wait! You're pulling to close to that other car!"
"Dad, I've got plenty of room."
"Hold it. Hold it! Look, let me get out and direct."
I got out of the car. I assessed the situation. Son of a bitch. He had more than enough room.
Then, as we waited some more, I started worrying what the test giver might think of the condition my little blue Mustang was in. Dammit, why did you have to volunteer your cars for these things? It's a different perspective, sitting in the back of your own car! When was the last time I cleaned it? When you're just sitting in the driver's seat, you don't think much about the stuff that you're throwing into the back. When you're actualy sitting in the back, I was shocked to discover what it actually looks like:
Note to self: clean up that puppy this week-end! (By the way, that is NOT the inside of my car, I PROMISE. I don't own a Nerf gun.)
After what felt like an hour of waiting in growing anxiety, the test giver arrived.
He was an older man named George and had a gentle manner and easy way of talking that immediately put Theo at ease. He insisted on calling Theo "Eddie." Theo didn't seem to mind.
George spent most of the time asking questions about the road we lived on and what it looked like. Occasionally he would give Theo an instruction every now and then, like "turn left" or "turn right." Even I started to feel a little better about things. Damn, maybe Theo was going to pull this through after all.
Then he got to the parallel parking request.
"Parallel park right here," George instructed. I could feel my stomach twisting in knots. The dreaded parallel parking. The curse of every auditioning driver. And something I absolutely suck at, by the way. To this day, I still refuse to, unless I am forced to...but then again, I'm the type who tries to avoid left turns whenever I can.
Theo pulled in. Adjusted his wheels. Backed up. Bumped right up against the sidewalk. It went kee-runch.
He immediately stopped the car.
I held my breath.
It's like he hadn't even noticed. "Okay, and what would you do if you were parking at a road where there were a lot of children? What would you do?"
Theo went through the motions, being very careful to look out for those imaginary children and explain what he was doing.
I knew he had aced the test at that point. George didn't say so, though. He kept him going through the motions for another three minutes, until we returned back to the DMV parking lot (which miraculously didn't seem so horrible any more). Theo was instructed to park in a spot. Turn off the engine. Then George turned and said, "Congratulations. You've passed."
Passed! Theo didn't say a word. I did the happiness for him. "Yes!" I cried out, punching the back of the seat.
By that point, George and I were old friends. He started talking about his granddaughter, about how wild she is. I couldn't help myself and said, "George, does your granddaugher have blue hair? Theo, take off your hat!"
Reluctantly, Theo took off his baseball hat, something he had been dreading George asking him to do the entire drive.
George wrinkled his nose. "Blue hair's okay. She has that and a tattoo. Tattoos are worse. At least hair you can wash out!"
With that, he was gone. We went back to the registry to get his license. I whispered to Theo, "Think they'll take a photo of you with your blue hair?"
They didn't. They used an old photo on file. Didn't even ask. Theo was disappointed.
My boy, learning to fly. Again. The world is his to explore.