The first time I remember getting behind the wheel, I was in the 8th grade. It was a 1971 Ford Galaxy 500. A huge, ugly gas guzzler. I was 13, hanging around with the wrong crowd, and Tony, who worked at the skating rink, let me drive around the neighborhood for a while. I felt all grown up, and a little bit like an outlaw.
After that, I didn't have the opportunity to drive much, and my parents made it pretty clear that I wasn't going to be allowed to drive their vehicles unless I was paying for my own insurance, so I ended up catching rides with friends, taking the bus or walking everywhere during my teen years. I graduated from high school and started college without ever even getting my driver's permit. In fact, it wasn't until I moved to Boston to be a nanny, and was told that I would be given a car to use (another Ford, this time a baby blue Maverick). So I ended up getting my driver's permit the day before my 18th birthday, and by the time Christmas came 2 weeks later, I already had my license. And the next day I flew to the East Coast, getting my first real legal experience behind the wheel in Boston, in the middle of winter.
But enough about me. This is about my daughter. Just like her mother, she made it all the way through high school without a driver's permit, and is now, just weeks before leaving home to move into the dorms at Southern Oregon University (my alma mater), is finally learning how to drive.
And guess who's teaching her.
It's not my father, who is a bonafide, card-carrying race car driver. And yes, there's an actual card. My husband tried his hand at it for a weekend, and decided that if he and Sophia were going to remain on friendly terms, he'd better bow out. I know I could send her to driver's school, but we've only got a few weeks, and it's going to be the last quality time I spend with my girl before my little bird flies away. And I'm a glutton for punishment. I'm also a former Class C licensed school bus driver who went through rigorous training. My fingerprints are even on file with the FBI. So it's me.
So, these days when I get home from work, we put the top down on the Mustang with her in the driver's seat and me next her, holding onto the the things my stepson calls the 'Oh Shit Handles'. She slowly slowly slowly backs out of the drive way, and we head out onto the roads of Shasta County. She's so careful, trying to follow all the rules. She puts her blinker on long before she turns, tries to keep her hands at 10 & 2, and works so hard at trying to make sure that she's not going over the speed limit that at times I've had to remind her that it's just as bad to go 10 miles under the speed limit.
We had one pretty hairy incident last week during her first night time drive in my car, when she turned the corner so gently that the turn signal was still going. Attempting to turn off of the blinker, instead she turned off the lights. I started yelling.
"Turn the lights back on!"
"How?" she yelled back.
"The same way you turned them off!"
"How did I do that?"
Meanwhile, she had pretty much just rolled to a dead stop in the middle of the road, which, thankfully, was our own quiet street (except for the yelling).
And there was another moment when she had a really, really good day. She drove on the freeway for the first time, and survived. She pulled into a parking spot in the Target parking lot and was perfectly lined up between the other cars. She pulled out, backing up fluidly, and got back onto the freeway, merging perfectly. Her turns were executed brilliantly, her stops were smooth. Back home, she pulled into the driveway at an excellent angle, and came to a beautiful stop. She turned off the headlights and the engine, and smiled as I told her what an amazing job she'd done. We high fived.
And then I realized that we were rolling backwards. Panic ensued.
What I'm realizing about myself is that when I start panicking, I lose my ability to communicate effectively. Instead of saying, "Rotate the turn signal lever to the left side of the steering wheel forward to turn the lights back on," I'm yelling, "Turn the thingy! Do the thing! Gaaaahd!" And a few other words start flying out of my mouth. I know, that's not helping much.
What else probably isn't helping is when I say things like, "Brake! Brake! Brake!!!!!" followed by "Gentle. Don't brake so hard." And then I'm constantly saying, "Pick a lane, you can't have both of 'em!"
I know it's not easy for her. I think she's feeling defeated, like a failure because driving doesn't come naturally to her. And she's being so careful, so slow, that she feels like apologizing to everyone else on the road.
Well, here's what I have to say to my daughter about driving. I'm talking directly to you now, Miss Sophia.
Yes, you're driving me crazy. But you're doing fine.
Yes, you're going slower than everyone else. That's because everyone else is going 15 miles over the speed limit. Get over it. But I'm still going to remind you that it's okay to go faster (I'll try my best to stop yelling, "Punch it!")
Yes, you're bringing the car to a full and complete stop 10 feet before the crosswalk at the intersection. Hey, at least you're not rolling all the way into the crosswalk, blocking the way for any pedestrians. Props to you. But I'm still going to remind you that it's okay to bring the car a few more feet forward.
Yes, it's a white knuckle experience for me every time you turn a corner because I'm imagining the car going out of control and flipping over. And every time you back out of a parking space or out of the driveway because I'm imagining you ramming into something. It's my imagination, and I can't help it. I've got a great imagination. And I'm your mother. I worry. But guess what. You haven't backed into anything, and every scratch on that car was already there when Aunt Laura & Uncle Greg gave us an amazing deal on their old car.So cut yourself some freaking slack and wipe that apologetic I'm A Failure look off your face, because you're not. You're learning.
If you need any more reason to cut yourself some slack, remember that I'm the one who totaled two cars in a 24 hour period while behind the wheel of my 40 foot bus (they were parked cars with no one in them at the time, and I was distracted while trying to pull away from a curb both times). Shit happens. And shit's gonna happen. It hasn't happened yet, but I can't help but imagine all the possible scenarios that my one and only baby girl might get into. I seriously can't help it. I'm your mother. I know I'm driving you crazy right back.
So maybe I'm not the best one for this job. But I'm committed to it, and I'm gonna stay right by your side, firmly belted in, trying not to grimace or gasp or yell unholy words too often, and we'll get through this. And in two weeks, you'll be gone, off to college. And if you think the current situation is driving me crazy, just wait until you're gone.
And now, to everyone reading this, I've got something to say directly to you as well. If you're driving or walking anywhere in the 96001 or 96002 zip code during the next 2 weeks, keep an eye out for a sweet metallic gray convertible mustang with two blonde chicks in the front. Have a little compassion, because this isn't easy for either of us, but we're doing our best. To make up for the inconvenience, I've put together a sweet little playlist full of driving tunes for you to stream off of Spotify. Buckle up my friends, and enjoy the music.