Rite of passage, L.A. style

I am going through what might be the most terrifying phase a parent in Los Angeles must endure. I am the mother of a new driver.

Not since I rode with my grandmother have I been such a nervous passenger. When I was sixteen I was already driving over Laurel Canyon to hang out at the Troubador and patronize Pickwick Books on Hollywood Boulevard. Now, Los Angeles traffic has become frightening to me all over again. My bright, conscientious 16½-year-old daughter is not really to blame for my jitters. If anything, she is probably a little too careful, anxious to do everything by the book. She stops ten feet before every crosswalk. She needs to be coaxed to go more than 20 miles an hour. Still, she drifts a bit in her lane and there have been some scary left turns. Each time we start out, I silently talk myself through it: "She's doing OK, she'll be fine."

I still get a weird chill in the pit of my stomach when I get in and see her behind the wheel. It's bizarre for her to be driving ME, after all these years of taking her to school and shopping and to the beach. My husband and I have her drive us as much as possible, hoping she will encounter every possible surprise situation while she accumulates the hours needed to take the drivers' test. I have seen huge progress in just the last two weeks. We graduated from parking lots at Santa Monica Airport to big congested boulevards: Venice, Lincoln, Wilshire. One day I let her navigate across town to a series of errands, even up into one of those tightly squeezed parking structures at the Third Street Promenade.

The day she drove back to the Westside from the Valley through Sepulveda Pass, surviving the curvy turns and the tunnel under Mulholland, I got it: she can do this. My hands no longer sweat when we are in the car. Good thing, too. There's no turning back. She needs to get her license and become a driver. She's an L.A. girl, and it will all be fine.

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