Crossing the last threshold of adulthood

Getting my license three years late

I lived a pretty sheltered life my first year. Unlimited dining plan, air-conditioning in my room (all hail New Dorms), lots of upperclassmen to baby me and most importantly — no cars. Protected in the car-free world of first year, I have managed to avoid the immense embarrassment of not knowing how to drive. Yes, it’s true. I am 19-years-old and I don’t know how to drive.

I know what you’re thinking. I bet you’re picturing me, a senior in high school, riding the gaudy yellow school bus with all the freshmen like the sad, completely uncool person you think I must be. All my much more sophisticated upperclassmen friends drive by in their daddy’s Corvette and I wave to them from the window of the bus, a single tear rolling down my cheek. Well save your pity, because that wasn’t me.

The fact is, I went to high school in Kenya which meant no license for me at 16. None of my classmates could drive, which saved me from the ridicule of not having a license when all of your friends did. All the residences in my community were about five minutes from the school (it was a very small town), negating the need for cars. More than that though, driving in Kenya was a completely different story than the comparatively picturesque drives of the United States of America. Cars are old. Roads are terrible. Traffic laws are questionable and drivers are insane.

One trip to Nairobi from my home in the Rift Valley was like a scene from “The Fast and the Furious.” Massive potholes threatened to swallow us whole, reckless drivers passed with lightning speed, huge buses filled with (literally) hundreds of people raced over pedestrian sidewalks and there were always at least three carts pulled by donkeys plodding down the middle of the highway. As a result, driving was not really an option for me, nor did I want it to be.

I learned enough to drive our beat-up Suburban to and from school when I was feeling extremely lazy or the rain was unbearable. I claimed to know how to drive and played around with chauffeuring my friends around our tiny school campus. In reality though, rolling around the dusty two-mile radius of my school without any traffic laws, hardly any other cars and a 20 kilometer per hour speed limit cannot constitute driving.

Thus, as the haven of car-free first year wanes away, the sad embarrassment of my license-less existence rears its ugly head. Already questions of “Are you bringing a car next year?” and “Are you driving yourself home after finals?” have made me face this reality. More than anything else I’m doing this summer, my main goal is to finally get my license. I’ve practiced a bit by driving around church parking lots and my old quiet neighborhood. I even went on the real road for about two minutes the other day!

In many ways, not having a license has left me in the realm of childhood. I still have to rely on my parents to drive me everywhere. I have moved out of my parents’ house, I have tasted alcohol, I have ordered my own food at Panera. I am so close to adulthood, yet this last threshold keeps me from feeling truly “adult.” I haven’t yet had that first triumphant drive alone to the mall to meet my friends. Once I finally get my license, I feel like I will actually cross this last threshold of adulthood.

As my second year approaches, my teen years are coming to an end and I am no longer in the safety of first year. I really have to grow up. It’s now my turn to be the second-year mentor that previous second-years have been to me.

I often think I haven’t learned much, that I’m just as immature as I was one year ago. Coming home these past few weeks though have really shown me how much I have learned. That first jarring command from my mother to do the dishes shocked me into seeing how much I really have grown in my independence this year. Thus, as I slowly feel more and more grown-up, it seems only fitting that I travel like one.

Here’s to hoping I can learn how to parallel park and get onto the highway without crying. 

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