It’s a tradition in America to take your DMV driver’s test on your 16th birthday, but none of my four older children was keen enough on automobiles to take part in that time-honored ritual. The oldest one still doesn’t have a driver’s license. Alekka turned 16 in March here in Addis Ababa, so for her it wasn’t even an option.
However, Alekka is more interested in driving than any of her siblings were. Perhaps this is because mastering this skill would both help her keep up with her Medford friends and at the same time allow her to stand out among her international friends, who won’t get their licenses until they are at least 18.
The United States is one of a handful of places in the world where you can drive legally at such a tender age. Even Australia, which in many ways seems so much like the U.S., has more stringent and protracted limitations on teen driving. An Australian colleague reports that the restricted provisional license that an Australian teenager can earn at age 16 is in effect for 3 long years, whereas in Oregon a new 16-year-old driver can have full road privileges after only 12 months.
While Andreas and I were galavanting around Scotland’s Western Isles, Alekka spent this past summer at our old house in Medford with her big sister Alice. Alice did an awesome job in loco parentis (with only a slight emphasis on the loco). She took Alekka around to all her appointments with dentists and optometrists. She got her a bus card and took her shopping for school clothes and makeup and a prom dress (if you know our down-to-earth “I may need an urban homesteading intervention before I get a goat” Alice, you know these last tasks took exceptional effort. She says she just looked at it as sociological fieldwork.)
But best of all, Alice took her little sister to the DMV for her learner’s permit – and then taught her to drive. This was another challenge for both of them, as evidenced by Alice’s Facebook status: “signs of adulthood #439: beer o’clock becomes after-teenage-ward’s-driving-lesson o’clock.”
Alice reported that it really went fairly smoothly until one afternoon in the last week of summer, when Alekka got unnerved by traffic on Crater Lake Avenue. Pulling into a parking lot in search of refuge she hit the gas instead of the brake. Classic. Fortunately the damage was only to the bumper, rather than herself, Alice, innocent bystanders, or the pole in the parking lot (why does a parking lot need poles, anyway?)