A milestone has been reached at our house. Our oldest child has a driver’s learning permit! Not a license yet, just the permit, which allows him to legally practice driving. And if I understand correctly, he’ll be able to take his driving test and get an actual license in 6 months.

Ralph’s experience with getting a driver’s license is so different than my own. In the community I grew up in, it was common for kids to get their driver’s license on the day they turned 16 years old, which was the earliest legal day they could get it. Getting a license was something we talked about the whole year we were 15 years old. We would take Driver’s Ed that year — it was part of the standard curriculum at the high school — and practice driving with our parents, older siblings and the Driver’s Ed teacher. By the time the actual 16th birthday arrived, the kids in my school were ready to take the test.

Once I had my license I could drive myself to my part-time job at the movie theaters, I could help out dropping off younger siblings at school and picking them up too. I could get myself to track meets and stay after school for meetings without having to bug my parents for a ride. Driving seemed like an essential part of a teenagers life!

But in the places we’ve raised our kids, the attitudes toward driving have been different than in my home town. In New York, there didn’t seem to be any urgency about learning to drive at all. It was common not to even think about it until kids were 18 years old and ready to leave home. In France, where Ralph spent his 15th year, getting a driver’s license was something the kids didn’t really even talk about. In fact, I think it’s not legal there till you’re 18 — I’m not actually not sure what the driving age is in France. Even here in Oakland, very few kids drive to our high school. Most are either dropped off or take public transportation, and again, Ralph doesn’t seem to feel a huge urgency about his license, though he’s been 16 since last August.

But even though it’s not urgent, he does want his license. So we’ve been working toward it, and trying to fit in driving practice where we can.

From other parents, I’ve heard it’s wonderful when your teen can drive, because it’s so helpful — errands for last-minute dinner ingredients, or picking up a sibling from dance class. But I’ve also heard it’s terrifying! I’m sure we’ve all read the heart-stopping statistics about teens and car accidents. I definitely have mixed feelings about it. But I also remember how much freedom and independence I felt when I could drive. I loved that feeling! And I hope my kids experience something similar.

How did it work for you? Did you get your license as early as legally possible? Or did you wait until you were older? Was it a big deal where you lived? And what’s the attitude toward getting a driver’s license in your current community?

P.S. — When we bought our vintage Renault 4L, we totally pictured Ralph driving it as his first car. We left it in France, but I still like the idea of my kids driving something old school — though I realize older cars don’t come with airbags or anti-lock brakes or other current safety features, so aren’t necessarily the best option for new drivers. We’re a one car family at the moment and have been for years and years. I wonder if that will change when Ralph actually gets his license.