Last Monday, the first day of Spring Break, I took Emily to take the written part of her driving test to get her learner’s permit. Somehow this snuck up on me. Even though she turned fifteen a few weeks ago, has had the book to study and has talked quite often about getting her driving permit, the reality of what this actually means hadn’t hit me. Until that afternoon.
Driving from the testing location to the license office, it occurred to me all that comes with teaching a child to drive: trying to keep gasps quietly to myself, death grips on the handrest, and questioning my judgment on where and when to not let her drive. Target’s parking lot is not for the faint of heart! Then there’s all that comes with when they have their full license and are driving when you’re NOT in the car. And here I thought I was done giving up sleep when they started sleeping through the night!
I like to think of myself as a laid back person—but I’ll be the first to admit that does not hold true when it comes to riding as a passenger in the car with the kids. That is where I become the Control Freak from Hell. Tyler’s been driving on his own for nearly two years now, and I still grab the handrest, even though he drives just fine. Maybe it’s the memories of how they drove playing Mario Cart when they were little. Or the times they ran into mailboxes, parked cars and sometimes each other on their bikes. I know, I shouldn’t hold that against them, but those visions must lie dormant somewhere in my sub-conscious.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Tyler was behind the wheel for the first time. He had two vehicles to choose from to learn on—a 6-speed manual transmission or a full-sized Ford Expedition. Neither one were very easy to start with, but he began driving with my huge truck. I can’t remember exactly how I learned to drive, but at least I had a small car. It seemed like I knew the basics before I actually had a permit. When we were kids my dad would let us sit on his lap and “drive” on the gravel roads surrounding the sand plant. I don’t remember having to ask how to put the car in drive, or how the gas pedal worked.
I do remember taking my driver’s test. I had the lady with the shocking red-orange hair and matching bright orange lipstick. The one the older kids at school warned us younger ones you didn’t want to give you your test. I had my mom’s ’86 Mercury. The steering column had the turn signal, horn and high beams all on the same “blinker stick”. Up and down for the blinkers, push in for the horn, and pull forward for the brights. Before we started, I was asked to demonstrate various functions of the car. The instructor asked me to put on the high beams. I’d never used them before, but I saw “PULL” on the stick, so I did. I pulled the turn signal right out of the steering wheel! Flustered, I tried to put it back on, resulting in my honking the horn long and loud several times. I’m surprised I didn’t fail right then, but she allowed me to drive off the lot into traffic. About the third or fourth turn, the blinker stick fell off onto the floorboard, leaving me with a little nub about two inches long to use for the turn signal. To this day, I think I passed only due to this woman’s pity. I’m sure that my test made her top ten of hilarious idiot driving test stories to tell.
So now you know I really have no business judging my kids’ lack of driving knowledge. I had some humble beginnings. Learning to drive a manual transmission threw me a curveball. And any passengers almost through the windshield. My dad probably has more gray hair having taught me to drive a stick, but we survived.
So yes, I’m a hypocrite. I still can’t help but be a little nervous giving up control of the wheel to someone who describes putting the car in drive as “putting the line on the ‘D’”. Luckily I’m married to someone who has nerves of steel and a lot more patience as the parent Driver Instructor than I do. I remind myself to keep a sense of humor about it all, because in the end, having another driver to run errands does come in handy. I just hope that by the time she’s driving solo, it will be for milk, bread and eggs, not antacids.