Presumably, I have had 15 years and 9 months to prepare for this moment. All that time has shown me is that you can never really be prepared for this moment.
The Learner’s Permit. Permission to learn to drive a motor vehicle. The most exhilarating milestone for teen’s everywhere. And the most gut wrenching milestone for parents of teens everywhere.
All of my children’s “firsts” are bittersweet. Each one a great accomplishment that inevitably made them stronger and led to their ebbing dependency on me.
But this is the only milestone that requires insurance. And possibly anxiety meds for me.
I began this process by setting the stellar example of letting Mac drive my car in an empty parking lot in the neighborhood before his permit was issued. Essentially, illegally. A big chance to take considering the Montgomery County Police Headquarters is located half a block from said parking lot.
As I slid into the passenger seat, I turned to Mac behind the wheel and it looked wrong. All wrong. Remember the movie “Freaky Friday?” I was stuck in a backwards, role reversal world and there was no escape.
So, like millions of parents before me, I plastered a smile on my face and spoke slowly and soothingly as I introduced Mac to the car’s dash and gear shift. I knew I sounded like I was talking someone off the ledge and I was. That someone was me.
Yet, I was one cool customer with the car in park. I talked about distractions. Never engaging the gear shift without the brake pedal depressed. What each gauge meant. Oh, I was good. I covered it all in a breezy conversational tone.
Finally, the only thing left to review was the radio and he was well practiced there. I had stalled long enough, it was time to drive.
And just like a million kids before him, Mac gunned it immediately and then slammed on the brakes. This segment saved me going over the seat belt benefits. Instead, he got a real live demo as we jerked around the car unharmed.
He had only been driving approximately 30 seconds and I was ready to switch seats. According to MVA’s graduated licensing structure we only had 59 hours and 59.5 minutes to go during the next 9 months. Well, once he got his permit anyway.
In the longest ten minutes of my life, Mac drove up and down the lot, parked between the lines and practiced backing out. All very uneventful until he got cocky and forgot to switch from reverse to drive and pressed too hard on the gas. We shot backwards where there was little room instead of forward where we had plenty of room.
He slammed on the brakes but recovered nicely as I glanced in the side mirror to see exactly how close we were to the curb. I caught a glimpse of my face and saw that I looked like the photos they take of people at the top of the roller coaster.
The forced smile and wide open eyes screamed panic mixed with the reality of being trapped to endure the twists and turns until the ride ended.
But for us, the ride has just begun. And I am learning right there with him. The driving world has changed plenty in the 34 years since I first sat in Mac’s seat.
Who knew there were apps for practicing the written test? We had to carry around that booklet until it was worn and frayed and quizzed each other while we laid out in the sun with baby oil and iodine.
Driver’s Ed now costs nearly $700 for a two week session which would have bought you a perfectly respectable car in my teen years. Driver’s education at my small, all girl school was taught by a woman who doubled as the media specialist and looked like she was going to suffer a heart attack each and every time we got in the car.
She eventually quit for her own sanity and we were left to trudge next door to the public high school. There, they touted their state-of-the-art simulators which are probably now on display at the Smithsonian with other relevant artifacts from the 80’s.
Practicing in my Yukon could nearly qualify Mac for the Commercial Class license but once he masters that he can drive anything. Unlike me in my dad’s Honda which was like parallel parking a tricycle. And I couldn’t even pass with that on the first try.
Back in the parking lot, I try and hide my relief as I climb back behind the controls after this brief, initial outing. On the up side he didn’t crash and I didn’t hold onto the dash or the bar above the passenger door once. Or scream. Or curse.
The down side is he can’t wait to do it again. Itchy to get out on the open road. Not me, because I know that road eventually takes him away from me. And I am not at all prepared for that.
Reprinted from The Town Courier Newspapers