There were plenty of tears when we drove baby Cooper home from the hospital. I shed every single one.
I was exhausted from childbirth, in awe of the little human suddenly in our care, eager to get home and, most of all, terrified of the cars and trucks zooming by. I sat in the backseat, hovering over our newborn, acutely aware of our charge to protect him in an unpredictable world.
I thought of every worst-case traffic scenario during that drive home, all the while falling more in love with our chunky, dark-haired, blue-eyed pumpkin.
The whole scene was a pretty good preview of parenting in general, with alternating moments of hyperactive worry and intense bliss.
For example, when Cooper became mobile:
He's crawling! He's standing! He's walking! This is so exciting!
Oh, my goodness. He's going to hit his head on the coffee table. He's going to slam cabinet doors on his fingers. He's going to tumble down the stairs.
Repeat when he ventures outside:
He loves to run barefoot through the grass.
Fire ants will attack him!
He's so friendly, running to say hello to neighbors.
Stop running across the street without holding my hand!
All these years later, the pattern continues.
Cooper rides his bike about half-a-mile to and from school each day. He wears a helmet (most of the time) and obeys traffic rules (as far as I know). I'm not worried about his behavior as much as I am the drivers around him.
He navigates a four-way stop, often manned by crossing guards, but sometimes he goes in early or stays late, and then he's on his own, at the mercy of folks who don't always pay attention or stop when they're supposed to.
Sometime in the next year, that bike is likely to be replaced by a car (a sensible, used car, to be sure). In anticipation of that monumental shift, Cooper is taking driver's education, working toward a learner's permit to be followed by hours of practice behind the wheel.
My worst-case scenario tendencies are in overdrive.
A motorcycle screams by on the Tollway. A sports car swerves in and out of lanes. A pickup truck ignores a stop sign.
My first thought in all of these cases: How would Cooper handle this as a brand-new driver? My second thought: Do teenagers really need to drive? Followed quickly by: Maybe we should move way out to the country, where cattle outnumber vehicles.
I'm not necessarily concerned about his abilities (though he hasn't actually operated a car yet, so that worry may be mounting). It's all the other stuff that troubles me: lanes closed for construction, distracted drivers, thunderstorms, fog.
I consider the split-second decisions we all make as drivers — how much distance to allow between cars, when to start applying brakes, crossing traffic without a light, yielding, changing lanes — and wonder how a teen's brain processes it all and makes sound decisions.
I think of my own early driving years, in my own used (and completely unreliable) car. I recall all those times my 1975 Audi stalled simply because it was raining. I remember the first time I drove on the Tollway — accidentally because I was in the wrong lane of the service road. I sometimes drove too fast, rolled through stop signs, turned right on red when I shouldn't have.
I made mistakes. I learned from them. It's what I hope for my own children.
Way back in July 2001, I had no idea how many times parenting would lead me to wrestle with fear and elation all at once. Even today, I'm unsure of how many more tears will fall, but experience assures me that the joy of new beginnings has the power to dwarf all the worries.
Tyra Damm is a Dallas native, veteran journalist, fourth-grade teacher and Dallas Morning News Briefing columnist since 2008. She lives in Frisco and writes about family life and parenting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.