By Heather Christie of HeatherChristieBooks.com
“Turn the wheels in the direction you want the car to go,” I said, my teeth clenched, my pulse racing, my voice deceptively calm and reassuring.
Please don’t let him hit the garage again, I silently prayed and forced myself not to close my eyes. My son was attempting to pull out in reverse.
“Stop it, Mom!” he said. “Let go of the armrest. I’ve got this.”
“Slowly. Now, cut hard.”
He looked at me wide-eyed. “Do you think Dad heard that?”
The mudroom door flew open. We froze like deer in headlights (luckily my son had the wherewithal to step on the brake). There stood my husband, horror-stricken. We heard him through the closed car windows.
“He’s going to bring the whole house down!”
See, this was the fifth little accident my son had made in his short learning-to-drive history. And the garage was his nemesis.
The first crash happened when I mistakenly allowed him to pull into the garage after his initial driving lesson. How hard could it be? We were traveling at 2.5 miles/hour.
Well, his depth perception was not yet attuned and his heavy foot not yet nuanced. He banged into the wall that holds up the entire house, shaking the interior baseboard trim loose from the inside wall (there’s a little hole on the garage side, but who sees that?).
Then there was the time he sideswiped the driver side bumper while attempting to reverse out of the garage. He said he’d gotten nervous as everyone in the car (me, his dad, and his grandparents) was too quiet and our silence made him panic.
Let’s not forget the incident when he successfully made it out of the garage, only to misjudge his final cut and ram into the trash enclosure. Nothing fell over. Now with the post slightly out of whack, you have to lift the swinging door with all of your strength to latch the lock. No big deal.
And there was the small episode when he smashed the terracotta pot positioned aside that trash compartment (but this could go in the very minor damage category).
“We’ll never be able to sell this car,” my husband says each time he looks at my vehicle (I’m the only one who parks in the garage, so my wheels have born the brunt of our son’s learning curve).
A driver’s license is the clear there’s-no-turning-back marker that commences the journey into adulthood. And our son can’t wait to take this trip.
This growing up stuff can’t be stopped.
I used to worry that my son wasn’t learning how to read fast enough or that he wouldn’t make the A basketball team. But driving is freaking insane.
It’s mother-trepidation on super steroids!
Forget about ABCs and sports teams. The stakes are high. We’re talking speeding missiles, near collisions, and life and death situations.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned while teaching my son to drive:
He looks like a man, but he’s only a boy. While I have the benefit of age and of lessons learned from mistakes already made, this is all new to him.
He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
There isn’t a reference point for him beyond his faded memory of driving an electric powered play truck as a four-year-old. And like the toddler who touches the hot stove and finds it hurts, he’s beginning to understand that there are repercussions to his actions behind the wheel (alas his little bumps). He might be six feet tall and weigh more than me, but he’s a kid and an automobile is an adult convention. I have to remember he’s still a boy.
Driving is not instinctive. It’s a lot like riding a bike in that once you master driving, you never forget how to drive. But until you get to that point, there are techniques that must be acquired. The experience is immersive, requiring total mental and physical concentration.
At first, it’s like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. It requires time and practice to train the brain and to create the muscle memory to drive that, as adults, we take for granted. He’s a great athlete and naturally coordinated, but these new bio-kinetics don’t come easily. Remember for the beginning driver, nothing is instinctive. Each step must be broken into small, practicable pieces.
My son will listen to me when it really matters. It’s refreshing to have him ask me what to do.
Stop? Go? Turn signal?
He’s not quite the dare devil I worried he’d be. He knows I am not going to give him the bad advice. Some part of him understands how serious learning to drive is. Deep down, teenage invincibility aside, he doesn’t want to die. My hope is that all the off-the-road-messages I’ve been trying to drill into him stick, too.
I’m glad he’s internalizing my driving advice. But I still plan to post little notes in the interior of his truck, too: Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Come to a complete stop. If you get pulled over, be respectful of police officers. Call me when in doubt.
We need professional help. A smart parent knows when she’s reached her limit and exhausted her skill set. I’m not sure I can handle anything beyond the garage and the fifty feet of our driveway. It’s time to call in the driving instructor.
Wish us luck! Oh, and I’ll wish you luck, too.
And should you be traveling through southeastern Pennsylvania, watch out. A new driver is set to hit the road in a couple months. He’s a kid in the suburbs, driving a hand-me-down pick-up truck. For him, adulthood is just around the corner and he can’t wait to get the journey started.
This post was originally published on HeatherChristieBooks.com.
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