I have learned that education begins at home, and I am my children's most important teacher.
I taught all of my children how to drive at an early age. I figured it was better for me to teach them than someone else, or God forbid, to try it on their own. The lessons were given in a big open field, off road, where there was no traffic. I only relay this information for completeness, and because I think it adds congruity to this particular column.
Part of the education and lessons regarding driving and responsibility were given thusly:
I want to tell you that every time you get in a car I worry about you. I especially worry about you when you are in a car with your friends.
Why do I worry about you? Well, when I was your age, I had some of the same feelings you no doubt have now. Not many bad things have happened yet in your life, so you tend to think, "Well it can't happen to me!" It is natural for teenagers and young adults to feel invincible.
You want so badly to be grown up, and have me recognize and treat you like you are. Well, to warrant that treatment, you must prove you are responsible. Responsibility is a part of growing up.
I do trust you will make the right decisions, and that is why I allow you to drive. However, there are some times in life where you don't get a second opportunity to make the right decision. Driving a car falls into that category.
I worry about you because automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among young people. Did you know that? More kids die in car wrecks than by disease, natural disasters, and all other reasons combined.
I want you around a long time. I want to watch in awe as you grow and accomplish all those great things in life I know you will. I want to be able to hold my grandchildren and spoil them. I like having you around.
Besides doing my best to instill a sense of responsibility in the mind of these young drivers, I have also given them advice and warnings regarding certain actions. I continued:
Don't drink or do drugs. Don't ever drive if you have. Don't ever get into a car with someone who has.
If you happen to be a passenger in a car where someone is drinking or doing drugs ask them politely to let you out. I will always drop what I'm doing and come and get you. I promise there will be no lecture directed at you either.
It is OK to speak up and tell a driver their actions are scaring you, or that you feel uncomfortable. After all, it is your life, and it is OK to be assertive when it comes to your personal safety. Speak up!
So, the lessons have been ongoing, and I am proud to announce this particular education has paid off-sort of.
Jessica is now a junior at the University of Iowa. She gets good grades and waits tables at two different upsale restaurants. She turned 21 this winter. In case you are wondering, yes, she is the type of daughter who makes a parent proud.
This past weekend, she got together with some of her friends at a local pub in Toledo. It was a celebration of sorts, and a reunion of several old friends. There was drinking involved, and Jessica had more than one.
When the party broke up, instead of jumping in her car and driving while intoxicated, Jessica called home and asked to be picked up. Her mom went into town and picked her up. The car was left in a parking spot downtown Toledo. By law, cars must be removed from the streets during early morning hours, and a slew of signs say just that.
Jessica had to work late morning the next day in Iowa City. I took her to her car. She unloaded her things (kids always bring their laundry home) from my car and into hers. On the windshield of her car was a parking ticket. The ticket, for $20, stated it must be paid in 48 hours or you will be arrested. Jessica went on to Iowa City and her job.
Even though this car is Jessica's, and she is responsible for it, the vehicle is registered in my name, so technically, I received a ticket. Since she was in town anyway, Elaine went to the Toledo City Clerks office to pay the fine.
When she paid the ticket, Elaine was told there were several tickets issued that night. I can only assume that some of her friends also did the right thing and either called for a ride or left with a designated driver.
I am trying very hard to remain pragmatic regarding this episode. If it had been snowing that night, I could understand the logic for removing cars from downtown streets to facilitate snow removal, but the streets were clear and it was not snowing.
I'm even trying to spin this into a lesson of sorts, but I am coming up short. The best I can do is thank Jessica for doing the right thing, and praise her for being responsible.
What about the ticket? Again, the best I can do is telling her to think of it as a responsibility tax. Sometimes even doing the right thing can cost you. But, twenty bucks to a struggling student is not small change.
I think we have a collision of ideals here. I would not be a responsible journalist without proffering a solution to this particular problem. Here it is.
The City of Toledo should print out a sort of "get out of jail free" card. The card could say something as simple as, "Bar patron doing the right thing." The bartender would be the keeper of the cards, and dispense them to intoxicated patrons to place on the windshield of their vehicle before they get that responsible ride home. The card would only be valid for that night / next morning, and wouldn't be valid during snow emergencies. Toledo Police Officers could then use their discretion in either issuing a citation or not. It would take the pressure off them to enforce parking laws downtown absolutely.
Small towns should do everything they can to nurture and keep young people in their town. "Taxing" them for doing the right thing is NOT in this spirit. Our local police should serve and protect, and not be in the business of generating revenue for the city.
Until next time--
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at
email@example.com via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.