“Mom?! Where r u?!” my daughter texted at the end of her first Driver’s Ed class. I pulled up to the community college parking lot ten minutes late thanks to a long line at the commissary, only to find Anna standing there with three other teens, looking mortified.
“O-M-G Mom! What took you so long?!” she said, hurriedly hopping into our old minivan. “Never-mind that, so how was Driver’s Ed?” I asked.
“Re-Donk! I’m going to die if I have to sit in that class all week… it is SO boring. The instructor is like a million years old and all he talked about was how to hold a steering wheel. Eight hours of hand and over hand? Like, seriously?”
“Well, I’m sure the material will get more complex as the week progresses, and besides, the other kids in the class looked nice,” I offered in a feeble attempt to retrieve Anna from her free-fall into an abyss of negativity.
“NO, Mom. Most of the boys wear those flat-billed hats way up on the top of their heads, and other than one dweeby kid, the rest of the boys just look dumb. One girl is my age and has a baby. Another girl keeps saying she’s going to ‘cut’ someone, and the rest are kind of awkward.”
Now, I was worried. But this was the last summer session of Driver’s Ed before the start of the school year, so Anna had no choice but to go.
In the days that followed, Anna became more entrenched in the micro-society that was developing out of her Driver’s Ed class. The forces of small group dynamics combined with the psychological effects of confinement, created an ironic camaraderie among the classmates. Having identified the teacher as their common enemy, the teen captives formed an underground alliance, hell bent on graduating and getting the heck outta there.
At four-o-clock every day, while I waited for Anna to be released from class, I would see the Driver’s Ed teacher, with a permanent smirk on his face, saunter out of the building toward his nondescript gold sedan. He wore drab Hawaiian-style shirt with khakis, and had a wispy comb-over that was an unnatural shade of Grecian Formula black.
Clearly, he saw himself as a sort of celebrity amongst the Driver’s Ed students. Nothing but a scurvy little spider in the grand scheme of things, in the realm of the Community College, this teacher had power, control, influence… and his own parking space.
Every day on our drive home, Anna would report what had happened in class. The first couple of days, she ranted about excruciating boredom. But things heated up mid-week, when at lunch, one of the girls admitted her romantic interest in one of the boys. The sophomoric revelation was welcome relief from the daily tedium, so the girls exploited this little tidbit of drama to make it last, going so far as writing the boy a giggly anonymous note from his “secret admirer.”
“Werr is u, Boo?” I texted Anna from the parking lot on the last day of class. I got no response, but a few minutes later, like some kind of reenactment of the final scene in “The Breakfast Club,” the teens came streaming out of the Community College entrance with their final test results in hand.
I realized that, although they had initially defined each other in the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions — The Dweeb, The Cutter, The Teen Mom, The Dumb Jocks, The Awkward Girls, The Boys with High Hats, and our daughter, The Goofy Military Kid – these uncommon teens discovered that they shared a common goal. And by accepting their suffering and each other, they found what they were looking for in the first place: freedom.