DMV: Driving Miss Valerie

It was mid-morning on Friday when I heard my phone play the little tune to let me know that I had gotten a text message. At first I wasn’t even sure why my phone was making that sound; the last and possibly only text message I have ever gotten was AT&T’s welcome message when I activated my phone service a couple of years ago. The message was from my 16-year-old daughter, Valerie. “Call the DMV.” She restrained herself from adding “Now!!!!”

Some kids take a more laid back approach to getting their driver’s license, but ever since Valerie started nearing the end of the six month period for her provisional permit, her 20/20 vision has been focused on getting an appointment for the behind the wheel driving test. She is driven to begin driving”¦so during Christmas break, she made calls or went online to the DMV website almost hourly to try to make an appointment for the test.

However, she encountered a catch-22: appointments for behind-the-wheel driving tests are only available 30 days in advance but there were never any appointments available within that time frame. No matter when she called during the day and even if she tried every DMV office within a 30 mile radius, the response was always the same: the system was unavailable and/or no appointments were available.

Her frustration was growing. “I’ll never get my license!” I would try my motherly best to calm the storm. “I’m sure the system is just clogged up with kids like you who completed their driver training over the holidays and are now they are all trying to take their test and get their license. I’m sure once the backlog clears out you’ll be able to get an appointment.”

Although I certainly understand how eager she is to stop relying on me and have the freedom to jump in the car and drive to Jamba Juice whenever she’s craving a smoothie, a part of me was glad that she had to wait. The statistics show that 16-year-olds are far worse drivers than 17-year-olds so every day that she is a day older only improves the odds that she won’t get into an accident.

Now that Christmas break was over and she was back in school, I offered to try to make the appointment. But she didn’t want to rely on my aging memory for something as important as remembering to call the DMV. Hence, the text message that she sent to me while she was in between classes that morning.

I tried again without success and gave her the news when she came home that afternoon. “It’s not fair! There are probably kids getting their license who haven’t even done their 50 hours of driving. Can’t you do something about this?”

In true teenage fashion, she was starting to take this pretty personally. It was as if she saw the DMV as a big bully and she wanted me to march into the office and put a stop to them making her life so difficult. I suggested that unless she wanted to become the Tonya Harding of the DMV and kneecap one of the kids waiting for their appointment so she could take their place, there really wasn’t much she could do. Actually, I thought she was getting a wonderful lesson that when in comes to dealing with the government, you really have no choice except to follow their rules on their timeline. Welcome to the adult world.

She decided to try calling after business hours on Friday because in the hope that the DMV released their new appointments immediately after the close of business. As she made her way through the automated phone response system, her tone got angrier and angrier. “July 17,1992! Automobile!! 94952!! You stupid machine!”

“Valerie, take it easy.” We gently teased her. “That automated system is probably programmed to never give appointments to teenagers who heap abuse on it. I really don’t think DMV stands for “Determined Mistreatment of Valerie.”

Her frustration finally broke down into tears. I gave her a hug. “You really will get your license. Just be patient.”

Steve and I thought that since banks update their data at midnight, that might be a good time to try calling. I certainly wasn’t staying up until midnight and I didn’t want her to either, but I offered to go online when I got up Saturday morning.

And voila! Around 7:00am on Saturday, not only were there appointments available for the DMV closest to us, but there were even time slots available after school. Now all she has to do is show up on Monday, February 9 at 3:30 and remember to signal and look over her shoulder before moving into the bike lane. She will be on her way to independence.

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