This Sunday, my 16-year old daughter Daniella celebrated her Confirmation. It was a beautiful ceremony; the local bishop was there, gave a funny and warm homily about growing up and becoming mature in faith.
It was supposed to be a key rite-of-passage for my family, steeped in tradition and ritual, tracing its roots -- I'd always imagined -- to bar and bat-mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, marking the transition to adulthood. But, actually, it all kind of slipped by me.
I was still recovering from another teenage rite-of-passage that Daniella had gone through just the day before: driving solo on the freeways of Los Angeles.
It was horrifying for me, and shocking in how it shook me to my core. This began mildly enough: she needed to go to her high school Saturday morning for a special advanced placement class. I grumbled something about being a little at wit's end, acting as chauffeur all around Southern California. So my wife suggested -- off-handedly, mind you -- that we just let our oldest daughter drive herself the twenty-or-so miles up the Ventura Freeway to her school in Woodland Hills. (She'd gotten her license two months before, and had gone on shorts trips over local streets.)
This struck my weary brain as fabulous. The car was low on gas, so I said: no problem. Dani can drive me to the gas station; I'll fill up - she can drive off and I'll walk back home.
Which is what we did -- all of which was going well until the "she can drive off" part came along.
She jumped in the car alone, with an eagerness to tackle the freeway system by herself that only adolescent bliss can muster. I waved goodbye -- found myself suddenly, surprisingly and powerful struck with a deep sense of dread. I started to walk toward the house, but stopped. I ducked behind a palm tree (even the gas stations have palm trees out here), and pulled out my cell-phone camera. I was prepared -- honestly, fully -- to witness the accident she was going to get into. I'd rush over, pull her out of the heaping wreck, snap photos and call the insurance agent.
I peeked about behind an errant palm frond. Daniella gently pulled out of the gas-station driveway. She went right, then left -- and zipped down the avenue, heading for the on-ramp. Smiling and whistling and all-kinds-of-proud, no doubt.
OK, no accident. But I banged on the cell phone and called my wife: "What am I doing? How could you suggest she drive by herself?" This, I said, was the hardest moment in my parental career. You know that time when you drop your three-year old off at pre-school the first time? And you're completely worried that maybe she will fall and scrape her knee? Ha! Nothing compared to watching that kid 13 years later drive off in a hunk of metal into a world of crazed motorists with no sense of personal responsibility.
I ran home, poured myself a tall glass of wine (it was all of 11:30 in the morning) and called ... my mother. How, I asked her, could you even dream of letting me get behind the wheel of the family Chevy when I was 16? She laughed, but only a little, and finally said: "Those were the scariest years for me, when you first started driving. But what could I do? Hold you back? You don't hold your kids back."
Either the 12 ounces of wine were taking their effect, or the truth of what my mother said hit home -- because I found myself calming down. Not a lot, but enough to get on with my day. Which was my rite-of-passage this Confirmation weekend, I suppose. Learning to trust my daughter, and learning to have enough faith -- just enough to get through the day.