Courtney T. Ball

Shit’s About to Get Real, My Daughter Turns 14 Next Month

Winter is not an ideal time to operate a rear-wheel-drive car in Iowa. Unless, of course, you’re a teenage boy. In that case, every parking lot or relatively empty street turns into a playground for you and the huge gas-powered toy that the insane state DOT has given you license to drive.

When I was between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, my parents had a massive old Pontiac Bonneville. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was made in 1978, when cars were still basically steel boats on wheels. I was never the kind of guy who knew how many cubic inches or horsepower the engine had, but I can tell you that it was powerful enough to spin the back tires when I stomped on the gas pedal.

It wasn’t my car, so I couldn’t drive it all the time, but I did get to take it to work and back. At that time, I was employed at the Royal Fork Buffet, and even though we were in the middle of the city, for some reason there was one route to work that included a gravel road. I always chose that option, because it allowed me to practice fishtailing.

But when it snowed, every road became fun. Two memories stand out for me from those winters. The first is when my friends and I tied a sled to the back of the Bonneville one night after hours in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Screams of terror and joy filled the cold winter air as I spun and zig-zagged them across the wide open lot.

Another time we jumped in the car and headed to Fort Des Moines Park after a fresh snow. Back and forth we merrily slid along the winding park roads until one minor miscalculation sent us over the side, down the ditch and into a tree. Luckily, no one was hurt, and my friend’s dad owned a tow truck to pull us out for free. Still, my parents weren’t overly happy when I returned their car with a dented door and shattered rear passenger window (in the middle of winter).

“Now you know why we don’t have nice cars!” my dad said. He did grow up in a family of way too many boys, so I couldn’t fault his logic there.

Now that my daughter approaches driving age, I wonder: what will be the same for her? She certainly won’t have the joy of driving an eight-cylinder hoopty like her dad. (It’s not very easy to slide around in a Prius; believe me, I’ve tried). Still, eventually she will be in a car without adult supervision, and she and her friends will have complete freedom to go wherever they want.

Anyssa’s a very well-behaved kid, but I’m not so naive to think that she won’t take stupid risks behind the wheel from time to time, or that all her friends will be as responsible as she is. For example, I’m well aware that the presence of cell phones more than cancels out any safety features added to cars since my early driving days.

In spite of all that, I seriously can’t wait for her to get started. I’ve been asking her almost daily to study for her test so she can take it on her birthday. I know I’m more excited about it than her.

That’s one of the best parts of parenting, to be there when your kids grow and try new things. It’s even better if you get to be the one introducing it to them.

I still love driving, still think it’s fun. And even though I am terrified at the thought of either of my daughters behind the wheel, I really hope they’ll like it too. I just need to make sure that during their first couple years, I can teach them how to enjoy it without killing themselves.

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Courtney Ball

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