A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: My ‘baby’ turned 16 and, biggest surprise of all, doesn’t want his drivers’ license

I’ve been dealing with a rather perplexing situation, lately. In fact, the situation has been ongoing, harkening back to Colton’s 16th birthday two-and-a-half months ago.

Maybe I should explain.

For most of Colton’s pre-teen and teen years, he has discussed with great enthusiasm the day he’d be old enough to drive. He’s pointed to its benefits, like how he’d be able to assist on long drives or how he’d be able to run to the store for me when we ran out of milk, for example.

Moreover, he had determined it wasn’t enough to be an average driver, even if he was only running errands. He set his sights on being the best teenage driver on the roads. And I had no doubt he’d achieve that status.

Colton’s dream car, the Audi R8 (Photo provided)

He talked endlessly about his dream car: the Audi R8.

If ever there was a car that screamed power and freedom and possibility, this was it, he would say. Every time Colton spoke of that car, his eyes lit up. With a throaty V10 engine capable of doing zero to 60 as quickly as 2.6 seconds, that car would be any guy’s (or gal’s) dream.

On those rare occasions when we’d see an R8 on the road, this otherwise stoic and reserved child would throw caution to the wind, prodding me to chase down the car so he could get a better look.

“Mom! Did you see that? It’s exactly what I want, only in white, not blue.”

No matter that the price tag on this two-door luxury car topped $150K. Those details could be worked out in time. And even if his first car would be an older model four-door, four cylinder, zero to 60 in a minute and a half type of car, there was a fair chance it would be white. So he had that going for him.

To tell the truth, I was excited about his dreams. And I was also excited about the day he’d turn 16. Oh, sure, I’d worry myself sick when he was out on the roads alone, but he’s a pretty responsible kid—and with two older children who’d been down this same road, I realized it was part and parcel of having a teenager behind the wheel. We’d get through it, one way or another.

Except that as the day of reckoning approached, this particular teenager suddenly had no desire to take said wheel. Even as his 16th birthday came. And went.

I reacted to his sudden about-face as I respond to many of life’s nuances. I called my daughter Hannah, who absorbed this turn of events with an equal amount of disbelief.

She and I had followed the more typical—and might I add, expected— path of Sweet 16, arriving at that moment in time with an inner knowing that we’d been born to drive. Getting our licenses was right up there with baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and—wait for it—Chevrolet, for crying out loud. It was the American way!

That notion, however, remains lost on Colton. And as the first months of his 16th year have unfolded, answers to his change of heart remain as elusive as ever.

I wonder: did I say or do something to dissuade him along the way? Had I unwittingly crushed his dreams? Had he seen enough of the other crazy drivers on the road or witnessed enough road rage from the passenger seat? What happened to all that talk about power and freedom and possibility?

It just doesn’t make sense that somewhere along the road to freedom, independence and adulthood, he’d taken an exit ramp with no explanation.

And because I’ve yet to understand the inner workings of his mind, I still bring the subject up from time to time, just in case he’s changed his mind.

“Mom, I told you. I have no need for a driver’s license.”

“Yes, I realize that,” I say. “But don’t you at least have a want?”

“Not really,” he replied. “If I want to go somewhere, you always take me.”

He’s right, you know. I do.

Truth be told, I don’t mind holding on to these last remnants of his childhood as long as I can. Because the real world will come along soon enough. Less than three short years from now, high school—and his 16th birthday—will be in the rear view mirror.

Maybe that’s what he’s thinking too—that he doesn’t have to be all grown up. At least not yet. And that it’s good to be a kid, even for just a little while longer.

Or maybe he’s just holding out for that Audi R8.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.


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One Comment

  1. Dwight Henry says:

    Loved the story about your son…Is he driving yet?

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