I took my teenager to the DMV this week to get his license. I can’t help but feel as if we got away with something — if not a crime, then at least somebody’s better judgment.
When we got to the front of the line, the worker (whose cheery disposition broke all stereotypes about DMV employees) pointed to the chair right next to her so my son could get his picture taken.
“Have a seat,” she said.
Without looking up from his phone, he sat down in one of the general chairs people wait in. The employee and I exchanged looks.
“When do you think he’ll notice?” she said.
“Probably just around never o’clock,” I answered.
“I have one of those, too,” she said, and an unspoken bond passed between us. We are mothers of unobservant teenagers.
This was after weeks of anticipation. He took the test at his high school, then claimed that meant he had his license. I asked to see it. He was all, “It’s not a physical license.” I was all, “Then it’s not a license.”
If complete obliviousness is a talent, then my son is the most talented kid around. It invites the existential question: If it’s not on an electronic screen, does it truly exist?
One time, a few years back, I sent him into the grocery store to buy milk. He came out 10 minutes later, empty-handed.
“They don’t have any,” he said with a shrug.
“They do,” I said. “It’s a grocery store. Milk is one of those things they definitely have.”
“I couldn’t find it.”
“OK, so, I’m just going to throw some things out there, and see if you can come up with any ideas. Milk is refrigerated. Did you see a refrigerator?”
“Here’s another thing. There are employees inside that building whose job descriptions include knowing where the milk is.”
Needless to say, now I do the grocery shopping alone.
Back to the DMV, where my son finally found the right chair.
“1, 2, 3,” the employee said.
My kid did this pursed lip thing, and I think he thinks doing it makes him look like Snoop, but really it makes it look like he’s lost a grape in his mouth. Then he moved on to the vision test, and after he passed, he said, “I totally aced that.”
Then he stood up and started to leave.
“Um, do you think you’re forgetting something?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. My license.”
“Yes, not just a small detail, but pretty much our entire reason for being here.”
Then, the employee, who’s observed the whole thing from the beginning, did the strangest thing. She actually gave him a license. I wanted to say, “Weren’t you here for the whole chair thing? And now you expect him to notice things like, I don’t know, stop signs?”
I felt a similar feeling when they handed him to me 16 years ago and then the hospital just let me leave. With a baby! They checked no references, tested for no motherhood qualifications. They just gave me the baby.
We got his license and got into the car, where he proceeded to alert the world of his accomplishment, because heaven forbid he has his license for five minutes without Snapchatting it. I started in on a lecture about how with great license comes great responsibility.
The pièce de résistance of my speech: Teenagers are dumb.
“But Mom, I’m a teenager.”
“I know, so it’s important for you to know this. You are dumb. And the worst part is you think you’re smart. Don’t feel bad. I was dumb once too. It has to do with our brains trying to catch up with our bodies.”
As he was relaying this conversation to his father, he left out all of the details except one fact.
And that’s the smartest thing he’s said in a very long time.
So good luck, fellow drivers — there’s another green newbie on the road. And feel free to adapt the “You’re dumb” speech for your own teenagers. It’s easy to remember.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.