Sixteen years.

I was sixteen years old when I received my drivers license and it has been 16 years since then. Nothing quite puts my age in perspective quite like that thought. . .

I distinctly remember the sick feeling I had going to the DMV to take my written exam.  Anxious by nature, a test was a field day for my nerves.  I was sure I would be sick.  What if I failed?  What would that mean?  What if I couldn’t remember a thing from my very expensive drivers ed. class? After the tired woman behind the counter scored my test (those were the days!) and I passed with a 90-something, I began to sweat with relief.

“Just think,” Mama Syd said, “You’ll never have to do that  again!”

Insert ironic, rueful laughter here.

After finding out about my outdated license in California and attempting to hunt down the many official documents to renew it, I was finally able to head to the DMV with all of my proof of person in hand.  I had attended a Bible study beforehand and expressed my nerves.  My friend clarified that I knew I would have to take the test again, right? Hello, sick feeling!  Welcome back!

This time I sweated on the way.  I worried they’d take my license and hold me – hostage! – if I didn’t pass. I laughed at the ridiculous of it all.  If I had realized the lapse within 30 days of my birthday, I could have dispensed with the test business.  But anything after?  Well, it was 4 months past due when I figured it out.

I thought back to the day I got my license.  I went in the morning for my behind the wheel exam to 1. Beat the crowds and 2. Diminish the chances of being a fool in front of multiple people.  I told my best friend and boyfriend I would be going.  She encouraged while he laughed and predicted I’d fail.  I carefully chose my outfit, makeup and hair-do for the picture I’d have for the next 5 years.  I filled out the paperwork ahead of time. I passed with a perfect score.

Cut to present day.  I hit the DMV over lunch hour.  The bible study knew, the kids and Jac.  He texted “You’ve got this!”  “Don’t stress!”  “I love you!” I had run late that morning so I was lucky my 2nd day hair cooperated and I hadn’t even considered makeup.  Oh, time for the picture?  Guess I’m wearing my scarf and coat! I hurriedly filled out the form so I could grab a number.  I failed with 72%.


When the screen (modern age!) flashed and read “You have FAILED. (In bright red.  Consoling.) Please try again.” I read and reread it.  Then I laughed. I might have said, “You’re kidding me!” aloud. I wandered back to the counter while the young woman helping me asked casually if I had a book to study.

“I do now!”

She did keep my license and I dove home, illegal as illegal could be.  I texted Jac.  I texted Mama Syd.  I texted Sabine.  The kids were incredulous at home and Tess cried, worried about Daddy being the only one who could drive.  And, really?  I felt a little 16-year-old insecure again.

Jac pulled up electronic tests and we took them together that night after the kids were in bed.  We read the laws and regulations of South Dakota and clarified how to park on a curb.  It was fun then but come morning I was a wreck.  I accused Jac of thinking I was stupid with each wrong answer. I was convinced I couldn’t pass.  I read and reread the answers I had missed.

Next to the teenagers and the young men requesting their suspended licenses, I was in good company on a busy Friday morning.  I smiled at little kids waiting with their moms and swallowed back raw fear.  When it was my turn I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, prayed a Hail Mary and dove in.

It went faster the second time.

I said, “Heck yes!” out loud when the final screen showed.

“100% Return to the window.”

I was proud of my license at 16, I really was. But this time, driving home completely legal felt so much more official and wonderfully delicious.  I think failure can do that to a person.

When I returned to cheers from Jac and the kids, I showed off my picture and made a date.  Because the next time I will need to renew Max will be able to get his license.  Five years.  There’s no way we’ll be forgetting that.