Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Driving a Hard Bargain

Ah, the joys of watching your children grow up and spread their wings.  There is nothing as fulfilling or as aggravating as they reach for independence and push against the limits of common sense and respect for their parents.  Now that my oldest is driving a car legally, she is reaching for that independence with a vengeance. 
Since my daughter has no right of privacy as my dependent child, I will proudly share with my loyal readers a recent email exchange between my soon-to-be-17 year old and me surrounding her freedom fight.  The punctuation and grammar has been preserved throughout to give you the full flavor of the electronic negotiations.

It begins with a request from my daughter.  Based on the early use of formal language and the expressions of love and respect in the message, I knew the final answer would be ‘no’, but I read it as a courtesy:

Dearest parents, let me start by saying the only thing important in life is following Your rules and keeping me safe. However, I do have a slight objection that I would like the be rethought.

On Sunday, December 9th I have gathered permission to go to the mall with (name withheld). Alas, her parents cannot pick us up or drop us off, making it very inconvenient. I know that in the past you have said no passengers until at least 2013. However this is a different circumstance. Ms. (name withheld) would not only be a distraction free passenger, but a helpful one. She pledges to remain silent and quietly scan the road ahead, helping me to make judgements only if needed and therefore making it a safer ride. She has even offered to sit in the backseat.

If you are worried about the trip, I would be happy to drive one of you to the mall on Saturday to display my excellent skills and also show that I know how to get there. 

I know that this would be an exception to the rule, and that it will NEVER be brought up again until January or whenever you feel I am ready to take a passenger. 

Please consider this offer, and consider trusting my judgements of my own driving skills and ability to say no do distractions. If Ms. (name withheld) is a distraction in any way, I will have no problem asking her to stop as we are best friends.

Again, if you accept my request, I will understand that it is a one time deal. 

Thank you for your time.

I was impressed by the effort, particularly since she typed this into her iPhone using the teeny little touch keypad.  My fingers were never that skinny.

Here is my response.  Hey Moms and Dads out there – any of this sound familiar?

Dearest Daughter, let me start by saying the only thing important in life is following OUR rules and keeping you safe. Therefore, we do have a slight objection to your request that will not be rethought.

While I have no doubt that Ms. (name withheld) would do her best to be a distraction-free passenger, the prohibition against riders in the car with you remains in full force.  We are not worried that you do not know where the mall is.  We are not worried that you would do your utmost to be responsible and cautious.  We are admittedly worried about the mall traffic on one of the last Saturdays before Christmas; it can be crazy driving at or near the mall even for experienced drivers such as ourselves.  Regardless, no passengers is the law of the land at this time.

We trust your judgment; we would be foolish on our part, however, to believe that your good judgment skills translate into adequate driving experience.  One does not equal the other. 

As a reasonable compromise, I would be happy to deliver you both to the mall on the 9th and then withdraw, allowing you and Ms. (name withheld) unsupervised shopping for a period of time of your choosing.  At the conclusion of your shopping, I will offer my services to return and transport you both safely home.  During such driving time, I will happily ignore you both and do my best not to even make eye contact.  It will be just like I am not there.

Please go back to focusing on your studies for the remainder of the school day and we will see you this afternoon.

All our love and trust,

Mr. and Mrs. Sherrier

Did I mention that she emailed me from school during the school day?  That is frowned upon, at least by me.  I never used my cell phone during my entire high school career and I survived.  Suffered through some long uphill walks both ways as I recall.

My beautiful offspring did not appreciate my email denial and responded with a little less literary effort and a little more edge:

that is in no way a compromise

To which I responded as the calm, rational adult that I pretend to be:

I must respectfully disagree.  The goal of your request was to 1. Get to the mall, and 2. Get there without someone else driving.  Our goal was to 1. Keep you safe, and 2. Keep you at home to do chores that benefit the entire family.  We have compromised by accepting your goal #1 but denying goal #2.  We get to keep you safe, but sacrifice having you home to help with chores.  You are getting one-half of what you wanted and we are getting one half of what we wanted; therefore, this is a compromise - the Compromise of 2012.

The Compromise of 2012 was a veiled reference to the Compromise of 1790, a topic that she studied in AP U.S. History, and a compromise that I found fascinating to read about as a history buff.  (yeah, that’s right – I’m a buff).  OK, I was tweaking her with the AP history mention, but I got some fatherly masochistic pleasure out of it.  I earned some reward for my participation in her futile growth experience, didn’t I? 

When the smoke cleared, I drove Marra and her friend to the mall on Saturday without so much as a complaint or an eye roll – at least not from her.  She had unconditionally surrendered to the terms of my compromise and we both learned something in the process.  I learned that when we discuss things in a calm and rational manner, we both enjoy a better outcome.  She learned that it is probably easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

With that in mind, my victory feels less absolute. It's going to be a long year.

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