Where does all the time go? It seems like only yesterday that my young son, Ike Clemente Kitman, was being meted out a lifetime ban from Club Penguin, the children's social networking Web site. According to contemporaneous reports, Ike's penguin avatar had strolled into a chat room full of other kids' avian alter egos and - after he'd asked words to the effect of "Why don't you all go &#$* yourselves?!" - the invisible corporate hammer came down, instantly rendering my ordinarily kind-hearted boy a nonpenguin for good.
One can't help but ponder the whirling sands of time at moments like these, as my first child turned sixteen a couple months ago. Under the laws of the state of New York, he is now legally entitled to get a learner's permit and, with suitable accompaniment, hit the streets in a motorized vehicle. Suitable accompaniment in the Ike-Man's mind would not be a legally registered vehicle and a licensed driver filled with helpful tips about when to signal or use engine compression for braking, but rather a working adapter and an iPod filled with the complete works of Questlove, the Harlem Shakes, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
The odd part, however, is that Ike has yet to get his permit. As a parent, necessarily fearful of young and inexperienced drivers and all the other hopped-up motorized penguins on the roads, I'm fine with this. No rush at all.
Still, as a gearhead, I've got to admit that I'm deeply perplexed. The first business day after I turned age sixteen, I was waiting at the Division of Motor Vehicles offices before the doors opened. In fact, if memory serves, I got there three weeks early, just in case they changed the laws governing teen licensing and it was possible to begin motoring sooner. I had places to go, cars to drive. 'Tweren't nothing or nobody going to stop me from making my appointed rounds in the motley procession of deathmobiles my pals and I rode around in, back when drum brakes, eight-track players, and leaded gas were as much a part of everyday life as platform shoes, fringe vests, and the radio hits of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Make no mistake, Ike has plenty of places to go. I know, because I'm always driving him to them. He's simply in no hurry to drive himself. For me, the shame mounted daily as I approached driving age. It's hard pretending you're the captain of your own ship when there's a Volvo wagon driving off and your mom is still shouting something out the window about you being home before eleven, while your little sister directs rude hand gestures at you from the back seat. Ike, on the other hand, seems fiercely unashamed by the prospect of mommy and daddy chauffeuring him for the indefinite future.
As every parent with even a rudimentary knowledge of child psychology knows, you have to move crablike and stealthily in such matters, lest you wind up with the exact opposite of the desired result. Casting back to my own first driving days, I ponder the effect of my parents' refusal to buy me a car. Did it send me around the bend, to the point where I now can't stop buying automobiles? Am I experiencing some karmic retribution for a lifetime's immersion in cars?
Like my parents, I don't believe in buying kids cars - such gifts don't convey the gravity of car ownership, its risks and costs. But this has been my son's recent refrain: I don't have a car, so what's the rush? I'm better off doing my schoolwork, rather than slaving in some crappy burger joint to make the money to buy a car that will only cost an arm and a leg to insure and then probably break anyway.
I can't argue with his reasoning. Nor can I offer him one of my two dozen cars to use, as the only ones insured for all drivers (including, who knew, young ones) are the newer vehicles - a 2005 Lotus Elise and a 2002 Freightliner Sprinter, the latter with 175,000 miles on the clock. They've got modern safety features like air bags, but they're hardly starter cars.
Sure, I could upgrade the classic-car insurance on one of my older machines. But if, say, the Rover SD1 lost power on the Cross Bronx Expressway with one of my kids at the wheel - heaven forbid anything untoward should happen - I'd never forgive myself. And even if I could, no one else would. So we're at a curious crossroads, indeed.
You can't go back. Then again, maybe if Ike asks real nicely, they'll let him back into Club Penguin.
Written By: Jamie Kitman Illustrated By: Tim Marrs