Little Wheeler: Rites of Passage from Points A to B


My youngest child just completed Driver’s Ed. Handing over the car keys to your child is a terrifying prospect for all the real, dangerous reasons — and the irrational ones too.

Here is the little nugget that I pushed around in a stroller now sitting behind the wheel of two tons of machinery. It’s hard to compute.

But I can’t let her see my fear. I’ve got to suck it up and make sure she knows how to change a flat tire, parallel park, pump gas and use a blinker and a seatbelt. 

When it comes to rites of passage, learning to drive counts as a biggie. It’s freedom. It’s independence. It’s road trips. It’s adventure.

I bet you remember the exhilarating first time you pressed the pedal to the metal.

My dad taught me to drive. One of our test drives ended just a block and a half down the road from my house after I took offense at his attempt at humourous commentary. “Is this a bucking bronco?!” he asked as I struggled with the manual drive. 

In the throes of teenage hormones, I simply got out of the stalled car and walked home.

We tried again later.

I’m proud to say I eventually mastered the manual drive and still drive one today. It’s a dying art.

I also bet you remember your first car. 

On the way home from her driver’s ed class, my child asked the friend riding home with us, “So, what kind of car do you want?” Her friend’s wise response: “Anything that gets me from A to B.”

Many first cars are just that, wheels. 

My first wasn’t too shabby: a used, blue, two-door ‘85 Nissan Sentra hatchback with silly string melted to the interior roof (long story.)

My sisters weren’t so lucky. They had the pleasure of driving the 1976 Chevy Chevette, robin’s-egg blue, at that.

“I told everyone I drove a ‘76 ‘Vette, assuming everyone would think it was a Corvette,” my middle sister, Caroline, recalls.

When our dad gave it to Caroline, he told her it had a lot of “idiosyncrasies.” It went 50 mph uphill with a tail wind on a good day, and could get up to 63 mph going downhill. There was no air conditioning.

The driver-side window refused to roll down. But you could spin the handle like a meat grinder before then pressing down on both sides of the window — one hand on each side — to push it down. But you could only do that halfway so you could reverse the process when it rained.

Gallons of water were needed on hand for the radiator when it overheated. And the gear stick would fall out of the box so you had to wiggle it around to find the gear while shifting. 

But it got from A to B — most of the time. 

They don’t make them like they used to. Thank goodness. There are enough distractions on the road without having to find 5th gear.

Before long, every member of my household will be a licensed driver. And as a parent, I enter another rite of passage: sitting up until the young ones get home safe from B to A.

It’s not that I’ll be wringing my hands in worry, but because I can’t wait to hear about their adventures on the open road. And also because they are picking up some ice cream on the way home.

Contact Maggie Beamguard at