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Mum’s L of a learning curve with teen in the driver’s seat

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My youngest child drove herself to work this morning. Her after-school and weekend job is across town in the martial arts school where we have both trained since she was five. We have been driving across Sydney, from the trees and water of the land just north of Parramatta River, the river that cuts through Sydney opening into the Harbour, to the denser, dirtier, livelier inner-south-west for twelve years.

Jessica Stewart and daughter Eleanor, 17, have shared a road to adulthood.

We have made that trip upward of 3000 times. She knows every corner, every pothole, every traffic light; she knows where lanes merge and divide, and right turns to avoid. We have driven in the early weekend morning before the city wakes, in the thrum of peak hour, and at night when the moon sits solid and low on the horizon and the illuminated city appears over rises and around curves.

It’s a trip that takes 20 minutes with a clear run and up to 40 minutes on weekend afternoons with its Saturday drivers and fewer traffic lanes. We have driven through every stage of the massive WestConnex development with every other driver as bewildered as us.

We have driven through tantrums and meltdowns, a collapsing world of primary school loyalties, (un)fairly bestowed awards, pride and estrangements. I have pulled over to climb into the back and hold a small girl beset by sudden terror about her adequacy.

I have watched her migrate from the back seat into the front, transitioning into her adult body. I catch her in profile, hair pulled up on her head, long legs folded around her bag. From swiftly changing into uniform in the car, she learnt that she must relinquish this freedom. I have seen her awareness that her body is no longer solely her tool to use as she likes but is an object – seen.

I have turned on the radio to drown out the dramatic sobs over parental overrule of a second ear-piercing. She has dissed my music, spat contempt, locked onto her phone, scrolling, thumbs jabbing. Yet, she has told me things too. Work dramas, the principal’s latest contrived outrage. Small things but gold to a parent of teenagers.

Credit:Art and Design

The road is real to her. Spatial awareness and speed are real. We have had a few bingles, inclement weather and inattention the cause, yet once we ploughed into the back of another, my frustration to blame. She watches, tenses, flinches when other drivers enter our space.

I both hate and welcome this. When she migrated into the driver’s seat, she brought it with her. The requisite 120 hours and more of learning bestowed new meaning on our commute, harnessed to her ambitions. Once confident enough to drive and talk, she shared more. She wasn’t going anywhere and as the only diversion allowed, my artfully casual questions sometimes bore fruit.

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