A condition familiar to every parent of a teenage driver is white knuckles - and after three teenagers, I'm developing an intimate appreciation of it. The symptom is a natural result of the flaming fear of rearing a child who actually turns into a teenager and thus becomes old enough for a driver's license.
Such a fear is no respecter of parents and applies equally to every child in order - whether male or female.It just doesn't get any better - no matter how many kids you have.
I can still remember clearly the first time it hit me. I just could not face the fact that a child who had ridden on my back while I played like I was a horsie - a child with whom I had had vigorous pillow fights - was about to take the wheel of our family car.
Where was the justice in a system that allowed such a thing to happen? Surely the age at which young people could apply for driver's licenses was unreasonable. Even if I thought so, my kids clearly did not.
So I went out with my oldest son driving while I was strapped into the front seat, nervously stomping on the floor boards and grabbing the dash board with both hands, even when nothing dangerous was happening.
For the new driver - at least in my family - accelerating and stopping smoothly is always the initial challenge, followed by recovering from a turn without a roll-over.
Supersensitive to the temptation to scream or say something I would regret, I usually say nothing until the moment of truth has passed.
In other words, until it is too late.
If a sound does escape from my mouth, it is a stammer, which just alarms the driver, sometimes causing another erratic action.
Sometimes a simple instruction delivered without emotion can cause a disaster.
The first time out with my daughter I said, "Turn right here." Only a second later we were not only drastically cutting a corner but we were racing over a residential lawn.
I was immediately grateful that the house had not abutted the street.
No damage at all - just a quick thrill.
Fortunately, it was not a rainy day. Looking back, I could not even detect tire marks.
One son backed out of the driveway a little too close to our rail fence and unwittingly removed an entire section.
In fairness to my kids, I have to admit that so far only one of our children has had an accident in traffic - and in that case it was the fault of the other driver.
No matter. I still approach every potential driver in our family with unabated panic and fear. I can only be grateful that my chosen vocation was not that of driving instructor. My blood pressure could never have handled it.
Even more strangely, once our teenager acquires a driver's license, the problem remains. Then I live in fear that this inexperienced but newly licensed driver will actually want to take the car - alone.
So I lie awake nights trying to think of credible excuses.
"I'm sorry. I'll be using both cars that night."
Why shouldn't it be enough to just get the license? Why must one actually drive too?
When they do take the car out, I hold my breath until they return. Years of experience do not help.
Finally, I have to sweat the little matter of car insurance.
In Utah, I have discovered that it is more than just the question of paying several hundred additional dollars for a teenage driver.
This is the killer - some teenagers have more accidents on some kinds of cars than others - or so says my auto insurance company. They charge me extra for all the other teenagers who happen to drive a car like mine!
If that isn't enough, I have gone through this process with three kids and I still have two to go!
The more I think about it the more palatable it sounds to just give up cars altogether and get a posh apartment near a bus stop.
If I don't drive a car myself, how can they expect me to teach them?