Driving Me Crazy

High school boys shouldn’t own cars—at least that’s what I told my first two sons.

I’ve watched enough movies to know what dangers lurk when a teenager has wheels.

  • Those with a “need for speed” are likely to disobey speed limits, get tickets or crash cars.
  • Highly distractible kids find plenty of distractions in cars, such as load music, lively friends (in and out of the car), food and beverages.
  • Testosterone-charged boys could take advantage of young women in the back seat. (Ah, the memories of youth…)
  • When a kid has a car to call his own, he or his friends may be tempted to stash and consume illegal substances.
  • If a kid controls the keys, his parents lose an important bargaining chip: follow the family rules, or you won’t have permission to drive the family car.

So, when my first two boys turned 16, I stressed that we had a spare available, and if all went well, they would retain the privilege of driving it.

Then along came my third son, the “gear head.”

As a toddler, he loved wheels and speed more than his ball-crazed brothers. His first word was “truck,” he only “read” picture books showing vehicles and at his in-home day care, he made sure to “park” the push toy curbside before heading home.

He spent hours “driving” our Fred Flintstone-like foot-powered “mini-van,” and he treated his electric jeep like a real car – checking the tires and hosing it off in the driveway.

When Son #3 was about 10, we consolidated the funds we and Grandma would have allocated for Christmas and his birthday (Dec. 26) and bought him a gas-powered scooter. The kid could not have been happier, and he proved a safe and responsible driver.

However, he soon became bored with scooter #1, sold it via eBay or Craig’s list, and bought a bigger, faster model. Before long, he was spending all of his lawn-mowing money on parts to make a succession of scooters faster and, seemingly, louder. Friends started dropping off scooters, in various states of disrepair, that they – or their parents – had tired of.

He would track FedEx and UPS deliveries online, and sit by the window until the trucks arrived with the next shipment of parts. He spent hours watching YouTube videos explaining how to repair and improve two- and four-stroke engines.

Recently, he calculated that he had gone through 13 scooters, making a sizeable profit along the way.

My husband and I worried that our son would never be content; that he would always search for something faster and better, and that he would eventually get injured.

Last fall, soon after starting high school, he befriended an upper classman in his “Small Engine Repair” class, who tipped him off to a 30-year-old BMW “5-Series” being sold for a song; it just needed “a little work.”

Our son had saved enough money for the purchase (from the scooter sales and yard work), and would have plenty left over to pay for insurance. The fact that he was still 14 and not even old enough for driver’s ed was of little consequence.

My husband and I reaffirmed our stand: high school boys should not own cars.

And then, one day, I had a change of heart while thinking of my brother Rick, who passed away a decade ago.

Rick had spent his middle-school years buying, improving and racing tiny “slot cars.” He soon moved on to real engines, and turned a VW-Bug into a dune buggy before completing driver’s ed.

He continued to overhaul and sell cars throughout his teens, and, after college, moved to Hawaii to open a car-repair business and teach high school auto-mechanics.

So who was I to keep my own son away from gas-powered engines?

We broke down and made room in the driveway for the old Beemer.

Life changed suddenly for #3. He had a sense of joy and purpose that we had never before witnessed. Through online BMW forums, he discussed minutiae with men three or four times his age. Via Skype from Chicago, Uncle Al asked for a tour of the engine. Through Facebook, Uncle Dave, a BMW fan who lives in California, strengthened their relationship. And “Uncle John” (my first cousin) in Atlanta sent a BMW repair manual for Christmas.

He spent hours under the hood and taught himself to drive a stick-shift in our driveway. Once he turned 15 and started driver’s ed, he begged me to go on drives daily.

And then, six months before he would turn 16, my son was ready to sell the car.

Our first thought was, here we go again. He’s never going to be happy with one car, and will constantly crave something better.

On the other hand, we figured that Car #1 had been a great learning tool, and Boy #3 was ready to broaden his education.

So, with great sadness, we all watched our son’s first baby leave “the lot” last Friday.

The following morning, he came to the breakfast table with a sense of urgency: he had spotted an amazing 3-series BMW on Craig’s List. It was five years younger than Car #1, in near-perfect condition and amazingly cheap.

Who were we to argue?

–Linda Williams Rorem, 4 June 2012
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Comments

  1. It would be a lot easier to use a cookie-cutter method to say “what worked for son #1 and son #2 will work for son #3”. You are heroes for letting Chris find his own path and for supporting him all the way. Randi and I look up to you.

  2. I loved this post Linda. It really shows the importance of being flexible in our rules for each child and letting them grow!

    • Thanks, Jill. Yes, flexibility is important, and challenging. However, my parents were right to tell their kids, “Life isn’t fair, and it doesn’t need to be.” Or, as one of my good friends once advised, “Just tell the kids they get what they need, when they need it.” Of course, my children still want absolute equity….

  3. Marian Dugan says:

    Enjoyed your post, Linda! Alec keeps me updated daily on son #3’s auto activities and lives vicariously through his auto repairs and purchases. I believe I have a gear-head in the making too ….he’s signed up for gas engine repair next year and is spending hours researching that first car purchase. Yikes!

    • How cool that Alec will be taking the engine repair class, too. #3 son still quotes the teacher almost daily. Aren’t we lucky to live in a community where our kids can take classes like that? Keep me posted on your gear-head’s car purchase…

  4. Carrie Lovsted says:

    What a great story! Fun to see our kids find their passions! Carrie

  5. Knowing Son #3, I worry about the “back seat” statement. Although felt much better knowing that his first love has four wheels instead of two very long legs. This by far was one of my most favorite blogs read. Maybe since I know the players. Your brothers memory is being lived thru son #3. What a beautiful gift. L

  6. Sara Compaglia says:

    I am laughing out loud!! xx

  7. Oh man, does this ever remind me of growing up with my brother! At about age 10, he took the engine off the lawnmover and turned his bike into a working “motorcycle”, much to my parents surprise. That was only the start of things. Now a successful Boeing engineer, he continues to buy cars and other motorized things on craigslist, fixes them up “for fun” and sells them off. It’s a passtime he really enjoys. Your son is developing skills that will serve him well for a lifetime. Arm him with rubber gloves and a jumpsuit so he’ll clean up easily, and he’ll be set!

    • What a great reply, Shelly. Thanks so much for your comments. Don’t be surprised if my son asks your brother for a job someday!

      • You were right not to argue with your son on this one… it was a good move. The 3 Series are much lighter cars than the 5 Series BMW’s so their handling “on the limit” will be much more predictable. It will be a bit easier to perform exciting “four wheel drifts” in the smaller car. In addition to being more agile, with a little bit of “tuning” his new car will have a much better “power to weight ratio” than the old one. Soooo, if he does press the “loud pedal” a bit too enthusiastically he may quickly find himself exceeding the posted (suggested) speed limits. On the other hand, if his right foot isn’t wearing too heavy a gym shoe, he may actually save a little bit on gas. And that would be really good for the environment.

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