Sometimes you have to use passive voice…

Seb is taking his test to get his actual driver’s license today. I’m not with him. Brian is a much more calming force than I am in this situation. One parent told me last night that the whole family went to their oldest son’s driving test. That is intense. The thought of us all going to Seb’s test feels overwhelming to me, which is why we didn’t even think to do that. Seb needs space from other people’s anxiety and emotions during test-taking, so me tagging along on this momentous occasion seemed less than ideal. Oren and I are going about our normal Wednesday “at home” which is really the morning spent at a library doing our homeschooling things, awaiting the news.

    When you have kids, you know that someday they are going to learn to drive, but it’s such a fuzzy, abstract thought when they are little. Then they actually climb behind the wheel for the first time, to soon you think, and it becomes concrete— extremely concrete. So concrete that it’s like a cement wall sitting there in front of the car, and it really feels like they are just going to drive headlong into it, full speed. The first time your teenager drives is the scariest thing, maybe, that you will ever know up until that point in your parenting experience. You are putting your life and your vehicle that costs thousands of dollars (hopefully not tens of thousands) into the hands of an emotional, relatively unpredictable, rather belligerent and unreasonable kid, who, you swear, acts less mature than he did when he was seven. You are also putting other people’s lives and vehicles into his hands. But it’s just your job, just part of being a parent and learning to let go of control, to climb into the passenger seat, the seat of passivity.

    In our English grammar, there is active voice and passive voice. The most effective way to write and communicate in almost all cases is in the active voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. We know who is in control.

I am driving.

In passive voice, which most English teachers through highschool will teach their students to avoid (at least mine did), it is vague who is doing the action, who is in control. In passive voice the focus is on who or what the action is being done to. So when you plop down in that passenger’s seat and your child is in the driver’s seat, you become the direct object, the passive object to whom the action is being done.

I am being driven by Seb.

Now you know why people try to avoid using passive voice. You are decidedly not in control. But it is also questionable if your teenager is actually in control instead of you. It may be vague to you both who is actually in control for awhile. Like I said, scary.

    As the parent, we try to stay in control of things for as long as possible. We clutch onto control sometimes for too long and may have to employ the help of a therapist to wrench our clinging claws free of the the thing that we need to give our child the freedom to do. Even in the passenger’s seat, or the backseat if both parents are in the car at the same time when the teenager is driving, we try to control the situation, especially at the beginning. We are constantly telling him what to do: speed up, slow down, use your brakes, stop using your brakes so much, turn on your blinker, you don’t need to turn your blinker on so soon. We try to make rules like, the parent in the passenger seat is the only one who gets to say things, the backseat parent needs to remain quiet, as if we will follow those rules. 

For a short time the parents do maintain some sense of control. The child needs directions on how to get places. He needs to be taught all the steps and mini-steps that are involved in driving without creating mayhem, hitting other cars, and killing people. But then gradually, before we’re ready, he understands what he needs to do. He knows the directions— the directions have been internalized from driving around with you all these years, while he sat in the passenger’s seat; and, if we don’t stop telling him when to use his blinkers and their brakes, how is he going to remember to think of it on his own? We have to stop doing what we have been doing all his life. We have to stop telling him what to do and where to go. He has to do this himself now. We can no longer do the driving for him if we want him to grow into being a good and responsible driver himself. He yells these things at us when we can’t stop trying.

As I write this reflection, Seb has passed his driver’s test. He is in line waiting for the DMV sloths (Zootopia, people!) to create his for-real photo license. Probably today he is going to want to get in the car and drive somewhere all by himself, all alone with no one else for the first time. We’re going to have to let him go (and maybe run an errand for us). In the case of Seb driving places on his own, we parents are not even going to be in passive voice anymore. We’re not going to be in the sentence at all really— except as the nagging voices in his head that he can’t get rid of and the people writing the check for our suddenly huge car insurance bill. Now, Seb is the subject, hopefully invoking the action of driving in a reasonable and responsible and safe way. And maybe paying for the gas he uses sometimes.

Lord, have mercy.