As I drove Walker to work this morning, I noticed him watching the traffic in a manner very much like my own, looking for an opening on the first of two busy streets. Up until recently, I actually thought the idea of him learning to drive was way out of the question.
He used to ride his bike to work, which is only about a mile from our house, but there are those two busy streets to cross, and worst of all, a railroad track. One of his fellow employees was killed crossing that track a little over a year ago, and his boss expressed grave concern about Walker riding to work. Since Walker is kind of a "fair weather" biker, meaning that if it was too hot or too cold or too windy or too anything, he would turn around and come back home for a ride, he didn't offer much resistance when we offered to drive him regularly.
This whole experience brought to mind something that happened when Walker was about nineteen.
Soon after Walker began high school he made his first real friend. Prentiss was a fine young man who was also in resource classes. He had grown up in South America, and had known a child with Down Syndrome in his neighborhood. Prentiss seemed to need a friend as much as Walker did at first. His learning disabilities and awkward gait made it hard for him to fit in too. He loved to come to our house because there was usually a trip to get pizza sometimes Walker had videos that Prentiss’s mother might have found a bit too racy. In nice weather, Big Walker would take the boys fishing in a nearby pond.
I didn’t worry much about Walker when he was with Prentiss because Prentiss seemed so much more mature and responsible. Prentiss and Walker discovered that Rich’s store where they went to buy bait was only a short bike ride from our house, and they often rode there for cokes and candy. This was one of the perks of living in a rural area where everything seemed safe.
Since Walker’s teacher had encouraged him to use real money in order to improve his math skills, I welcomed the opportunity for him to use the supply of coins he kept in the little metal box by his bed. The source of this money was questionable. Sometimes it came from his grandparents or from small jobs he did for his Dad, but I also discovered that he pocketed any change left over from his lunch money, hoarding quarters so that he would always have money for the drink machines at school or at the little store.
One Saturday, about noon, I was puttering around in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was Walker. This was before we all carried cell phones, or had caller ID, but we did have a second line that he sometimes used to communicate with us rather than coming downstairs. He stammered around a bit, sounding unusually flustered. I finally determined that he wasn't at home at all. He was in Mississippi. I asked him, rather sternly, to put an adult on the phone.
This time Walker had slipped out of his room and down the back stairs and out the garage, and headed to Rich’s store without permission. This excursion had turned into a much longer odyssey when he found the little store closed. Determined to buy a soft drink, he had ridden on and on in hopes of finding another store. When he arrived at a busy intersection, he watched the cars and trucks whiz by him and decided that it was much too dangerous for him to cross and reversed his course. Unfortunately, he failed to notice a slight fork in the road, and took the fork that led him several miles into Mississippi.
When I drove up to the neat trailer home and knocked on the door., a pleasant woman assured me that it had been no trouble, and I loaded Walker and his bike into the back of the station wagon. As we drove toward home, I lectured all the way. Walker’s privileges were suspended for a week and when he was allowed to ride his bike again it was with the understanding that he would ask permission before going off. He has stuck to his promise, at least about his bicycle.
Is Walker ready for driving a car? He certainly didn't jump at my offer to sign him up for Driver's Education, even after I assured him that they wouldn't actually let him drive on a busy street until he had driven many miles with an instructor. I've given him something to think about, though.
The bigger question is whether I'm ready for him to drive a car. I finally believe that he's ready to begin what may be a several year process. His temper is firmly under control, and his sense of direction is usually better than mine. He is certainly capable of passing the written exam, but this is a busy, dangerous city.
Now that I've thrown the idea out, I know that the time will come when he signals me in some way that he's ready. It may be sooner...or later...just like all things with Walker.
I hope I have the patience for the process and faith that he can cope with things that come his way, whatever they may be.