This spring, my baby brother Steven will turn 16. The age difference between us is seven years, which means that we’re close enough to get along well and hang out together, but far enough apart that I take my role as older sister very seriously and spend much of my time worrying about his well being and hovering around him like an annoying third parent.
So when he talks about getting his driver’s license and—gasp—actually using it to drive around, in an actual car, on the freeway or highway or to the grocery store to get more milk, I start to freak out a bit.
Now that I’m past my teen years and in my jaded early 20s and now know everything, 16 seems like a ridiculously young age to be in charge of a potentially destructive vehicle. I mean, what is society thinking? This is the kid who “accidentally” dumped a cooler full of ice water on me during our annual family trip to Camp Richardson; the one who makes eight-minute-long movies about his friends jumping off tables in the school yard. (How many minutes does it really take to show someone jumping from a bench to another bench?) He spends more time on his smartphone than I do, and wore a pretend beard when he dressed up like Brian Wilson for Halloween because he couldn’t grow his own yet. And we expect him to operate a moving vehicle?
It’s not that I don’t trust him. He took driver’s education. He was an Eagle Scout at 14, and is always the first to say “I love you” when we get off the phone with each other. He also makes a pretty damned good breakfast burrito. But driving is a big deal, especially in the rural Nevada town where I grew up and where he still lives with our parents. It’s almost a necessity to get to school, to work, to a friend’s house. And he just seems so young.
And yet when I was 16, I had my license, a tattoo, a job, and a trip to Europe under my belt. I remember feeling mature, and yet annoyed that my parents lectured me about driving safety. They insisted that “It’s not you we’re worried about—it’s them,” meaning, the rest of the world with their eyes more focused on text messaging or reapplying lipstick than on the road. While I’ve never been in a car accident—knock on wood—or had any major vehicle catastrophes, I’ve had a few close calls, and only through experience was I able to develop the necessary reaction time to prevent disasters.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’m scared. I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to my precious sibling. There are a lot of bad drivers out there, and I want him to be prepared if something happens. And I want him to be aware of the repercussions of his actions if he makes a bad decision.
But in the very near future, he’ll be driving when the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles decides he’s ready and not when I deem it so, and I’ll have to let him take the wheel. And soon enough he’ll be off to college and experiencing life on his own, and my parents and I will need to back off and let him make mistakes and get a little lost before he can find himself—on his own terms.
I’m excited for him, because I remember how cool being 16 was—and then being 18, and then 21—and figuring out what kind of person I wanted to be with the whole world ahead of me. And I’m excited to have a grown up brother who can drive me to the movies or drop me off with my friends.
But there’s no way in hell he’s getting a tattoo yet.