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Modern Parenthood

A boy, 9, in India is driving a Ferrari while my son, 17, confused R for D

In India, a dad celebrated his son's 9th birthday by letting the boy drive the family's Ferrari. A viral video of the drive led Indian authorities to arrest the dad. Still, the nine-year-old hurt no one. That's more than my teenaged driver-in-training could say.

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I think that maybe I’m a little envious of the parents’ total abundance of confidence in their son’s abilities because the first time I got my son Ian, 17, behind the wheel last year I left a scream behind that you can still hear echoing on quiet afternoons.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Last fall, a year after all his friends had already been on the road, Ian was still adamant about not getting behind the wheel, stating flatly, “I don’t want to die, and I also don’t want to kill anybody, and that’s what’s going to happen if you make me drive.”

This is the same kid who hops on a featherweight bike and weaves like greased lightning through traffic all over the city of Norfolk, Va., and neighboring areas. This is the guy who became the youngest to attain a Gracie Blue Belt in Jiu Jitsu at 15 and who regularly takes on some of the most deadly opponents on the mat.

This is a kid who was absolutely right, and I should have listened to him. In an empty parking lot when told to shift into drive “D” and slowly ease-on the gas pedal, Ian put it in “R” and, lead-footed as The Iron Giant, shot us backward at high speed. We travelled backward, across the lot with my forehead on the dashboard from sheer centrifugal force until we jumped over a decorative barrier and my left foot found the brake pedal. This freed my head and engaged my scream circuits even as I realized he was already screaming, “I TOLD YOU!”

It didn’t get better. The next day he tried to change lanes without looking and we nearly dogpiled into a 7-11 with three other cars.

Fortunately, a few years ago, I read a book called "The Worst Is Over: What to Say When Every Moment Counts — Verbal First Aid to Calm, Relieve Pain, Promote Healing, and Save Lives," by Judith Acosta and Judith Simon Prager. The authors tell you to look at the person in crisis and say, “The worst is over. We’re past it now and we can get better from here.”

The book also warns you not to lie and give false hope. So in Ian’s case I said, “It’s OK. The worst is over, I hope. Let’s just sit here for a while longer.”

He got much better because he’d been expecting my screaming to continue and morph from the series of prayers I was apparently shouting, to reproach. I was just too happy to be alive to chide. Now Ian’s an excellent driver and about to take his road test.

However, since I had a video camera set up on the dashboard the event was recorded and has now acted as a deterrent to son Avery, 14. When Avery’s pal came to visit from North Carolina waiving around his new learner’s permit, Avery said, “I don’t see what you’re so excited about. You now have permission to pilot a multi-ton missile into inanimate objects and living beings. Pass!”

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