I’ve learned something about myself recently. I’m really not a very good driving teacher. I officially have two teenage boys learning to drive and I am a hot mess. The funny part is I am the backseat driver--literally. My fiancé is the teacher sitting ringside and I guess you would call me the teacher’s aid. I sit in the backseat and observe, chime in when needed with my driving know-how, and get to say “slow down” a lot. I let Michael do almost all of the teaching and he’s really very good. He’s patient and already has Son #2 driving with the regular traffic on lesson three. If it were me, we’d still be driving in circles in the empty parking lots and my need for Xanax would be astronomical.
I’ve learned my self-control is stronger than I thought as I can sit quietly and appear calm in the back seat, despite sometimes feeling like my death (or that of a fellow citizen) is flashing in front of my eyes. Son #2 is driving very well and an excellent student. He listens, doesn’t panic, and follows directions. I, on the other hand, have small panic attacks with each turn of the wheel. The silent scream of “Oh my god!” rings through my head as we weave through a grocery store parking lot as unknowing potential victims walk by. Today was driving in 5-o’clock rush hour traffic as the swarms of commuters fly through the downtown residential neighborhoods. We survived unscathed. And, my need to control the situation (because obviously I know best) has taken the backseat with me. I don’t question the teacher’s methods and let him instruct. I need to keep things serene by not blurting out my worrisome mother-thoughts.The last thing any of us need is a distracting debate while teaching a teenager to drive. Besides, Michael knows never go against a half-Mexican when death is on the line.
I’ve learned to give Son #2 more credit in what he can accomplish. It’s not that I didn’t think he couldn’t do this whole driving thing, it’s just the idea he could do so well in the first three lessons. I know we have to allow our kids to fail in order to succeed. But, I don’t think they meant while driving your one-ton vehicle for the first time. Failure means car accidents and the potential for my seeing blood. I have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, not to mention my immense despair anyone get hurt--much less my son. I don’t take for granted anything can happen during this ritual right of passage. It’s my willingness to be open to the fact the boys can successfully learn to drive when given the chance to do it on their own...with our help. Five to ten years should be enough time to learn to drive, right?
I’ve learned to trust. Not that I don’t have the utmost faith in Michael. I do, completely. It’s trusting that he knows what he’s doing when he decides Son #2 can drive up busy Michigan Avenue with the many maniacal drivers on the road. There is no one I have more faith in than Michael. He puts my mind at ease with a simple look toward the back seat, always sensing my angst. He knows me. Not unlike Son #2, this is a first for both of us--for him, driving; and for me, allowing it. It really is a leap of faith no matter how much trust you have in those you love. Quite honestly, it’s not my concern so much for those in my car, but those people driving alongside us. As a veteran driver, I know way too many people drive rather shitty and won’t know we’re in teaching mode. I know there will be that one day when we’re honked at, yelled at, and get the universal hand gesture signaling their displeasure with our driving presence. Perhaps that’s the real right of passage.
I’ve learned that I will survive this driving lesson with a sense of humor. My father did. My dad was patient and a great teacher, but let you know street racing is illegal when I floored it at a green light. I also heard, “What shade of green do you like?” if I was too slow. These jaunts out on the open road have brought a bit of nostalgia with them. I remember driving with my father and his comments like, “you may want to pick a lane, you can’t have both.” or “You’re supposed to have your eyes open when driving.” My dad is not one to let any opportunity go by where he can poke a little fun. And just like my him, Michael keeps things lighthearted with his jabs at Son #2’s sudden stops causing whip-lash or gunning the accelerator when the light turns green. I know this is all part of learning to drive, and having a good sense of humor whiling doing it is essential...not to mention a neck brace.
I’ve learned to be humble about my own driving experiences. They key is not to brag how perfect you remember your first time out driving. It wasn’t. I was nervous and anxious, just like the boys are. Did I assume it would be easy and didn’t need much help? I’m sure I did. However, what I share is my own mistakes while learning to drive. My parents told me to take it slow when changing lanes, ease into it. When #2 switches lanes as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. I say the same thing my father did. When I turned corners on two wheels, my dad let me know he wasn’t ready to die. It’s okay to share your mishaps with your children as it reminds them no one is perfect and we don’t expect them to be. We let him know we are proud of him regardless of whether or not we were at times terrified. And, we also let him know what he needs to work on. If we get this right, both our boys will be excellent drivers and feel comfortable behind the wheel--even if it’s out of alignment from hitting the curb.
Lessons for Son #1 will commence soon and he has a completely different personality. He is somewhat like me in the sense I want to be perfect the first time out with anything I do. Perhaps all of us are like that when trying something new. We know it isn’t possible and can get easily discouraged. A different approach will be needed with him and we will have to hold back on humorous criticism. I think having Son #2 start first was a good thing, like a primer. He is more laid back, whereas #1 is all business. For us parents, we are getting in the groove of teaching a life skill everyone takes for granted. It’s a refresher course for us and we are more aware of not only how important it is to follow the basic rules of the road, but we’re that learning this can be a scary experience for all involved. We’ve all been there. And for kids, teenagers specifically, they have to become vulnerable to their parents as they get behind the wheel for the first time. Name me a teenager who doesn’t hate that. They’ve spent the last few years trying to convince us they already know everything and can manage on their own. It’s obvious they can’t. Not yet.
So, I look forward to the day when my children call me to share their experience teaching their own children. Hopefully, they’ll be able to look back on their own experience and remember how much patience we had, relatively. I hope they recognize this is a driving lesson for us parents as well. I’ve already started thinking about teaching my daughter how to drive. I’ve got about four more years to prepare. However, I’m really not too worried. Everyone knows women are the better drivers.
I am a woman-child at heart; continuously evolving to find my place in life. I am a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I am a lover and a dreamer--an explorer and a traveler. But it's my passion for writing that allows me to explore my ingenuity. This is something that undoubtedly carries over to the many roles that make up the ever evolving woman I am.