Rite of passage? Right of way.

When you last heard from Bridgette Bartlett in this column, it might have been when she was endeavoring to sing like Ariel, the Little Mermaid, pretending she had fins instead of legs while she sat on the dock by the pond in the back of her house. Or it might have been when she was one of the 11 girls under the age of 5 who were sharing the role of Dorothy in a Lincoln Community Preschool production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Oh, she has appeared in this column since then, but many readers still presume that Bridgette and my daughter’s other friends are elementary school students.

Well, here’s a news flash — and it is among the most terrifying sentences I have ever written in my life. Bridgette Bartlett now has her driver’s license. At precisely 10:01 a.m. on Jan. 7, she passed her driver’s test. In the week and a half since then, her parents’ hair has become noticeably grayer.

Bridgette is the first of my daughter’s close friends in Addison County to make this rite of passage. The first thing Bridgette did after passing her driver’s test that Thursday morning in Middlebury? “I dropped my mom off at Hannaford’s and drove to the natural foods co-op to get a veggie wrap,” she said.

Her second day with her license, a week ago Friday, she navigated through her first snowstorm. She was driving home to Lincoln at night from a friend’s house in Monkton and she said the road was slick and the visibility awful. Such is the reality of learning to drive here in the faux tundra of northern New England: You don’t get a long grace period when the asphalt is dry and you’re not driving through a tunnel of oncoming white darts. But she made it just fine.

I asked her if she had ever been in a car accident.

“Well, there was that time you went off the Boyce-Munson driveway in the snow,” she replied.


Yes, there was that, I recalled. I had been driving my daughter, Bridgette, Amelia Munson and Yuki Davis to a dance class in Colchester. And I did exactly what I never want my daughter or Bridgette or their friends ever to do when they’re driving: Blast Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” on the car stereo and tap their hands to the beat on the steering wheel. One minute I was banging on the wheel as if it were a snare drum, and the next I was spinning my wheels in a foot-and-a-half of powder three impassable yards from the edge of the Boyce-Munson driveway. The girls had to take a cab to dance class and I had to call AAA for a tow.

Yup, do as I say. Not as I do. At least I wasn’t texting.

It has been fascinating to watch my daughter’s friends grow up these last 16 years. As a parent, you always hope your children won’t do the same ridiculous things as teenagers that you know all too well you yourself did. You always hope that you are a solid role model in their presence — or, at least, you will have the common sense not to pretend you’re a rock star while piloting a few thousand pounds of metal on a slippery driveway in January.

And you always worry. You never stop. You worry about your own children and you worry about all those children who are friends of your kids. Except, suddenly, you are worrying about someone who is 16 years old instead of 6.

I asked Bridgette’s mom what it was like to sit in the passenger seat over the last year when she was helping Bridgette learn to drive. “I gasped a lot,” she said simply.

Apparently, that, too, is part of being a parent. It doesn’t matter whether you have a tyke or a teen.

Congratulations, Bridgette. Now, be careful. Be cautious. Be smart. And turn down the volume on the Billy Joel.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 17, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Rite of passage? Right of way.

  1. Lois says:

    you may want to check in to AAA for any new or young driver especially. What a great way to feel more secure about your loved one driving when you are not with them. It offers flat tire assistance and battery boosts. In addition, in some states, AAA offers free membership to youth. It may or may not be applicable in your state. Good luck..

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