I’ve got a theory that parenting is filled with things that no one tells you about until it is too late. A classic example of the genre is that breastfeeding can be fraught with a mind numbing agony that will induce you to throw dignity to the winds and start stuffing cold cabbage leaves down your already hideously unattractive maternity bra.
Though my breastfeeding days are long gone, I have hit upon another widely unacknowledged parental fact: Never mind the alcohol, smoking, excess weight, and stress we are all supposed to be avoiding as adults in our forties … the single activity almost guaranteed to raise your blood pressure and shorten your life, is teaching your firstborn to drive.
I use the word teaching loosely, as one key characteristic of the average sixteen-year-old climbing behind the wheel of the family car is an attitude of, “Well, how hard can this be?” And you can see their point from a technology perspective, given the fact their parents can barely master an iPhone. The teenage assumption is that this driving lark must be a piece of cake compared to my offspring’s norm of simultaneously texting, talking, typing, watching TV, and doing homework.
In normal life I am a fairly exuberant type, prone to arm waving, loud exclamations, and impromptu gestures, all characteristics that make me wildly unsuitable as a supervising driver. However, such is the level of terror associated with being strapped into my own car as a passenger that I barely utter a whimper. The most frequently heard instruction is in fact from Drama Queen No.1, who with some irritation orders me to let go of the door that I tend to grasp with both hands. The whole outing is also conducted to the steady beat of my right foot stamping to the floor with the rhythm of a death-defying tango.
The NSW Road Traffic Authority sets sixteen-year-olds loose with instructions to notch up 120 hours of quality driving time before they can sit their tests at seventeen. The bulk of these hours inevitably fall to their parents. I don’t know about you but 120 hours strikes me as an awfully long time for your life to flash before your eyes at regular intervals. The RTA does however helpfully issue some advice to novice supervisors, including the suggestion that we invest in an extra rear view mirror, presumably to better observe the frothing faces and gesticulations of drivers behind. I have to say that will be all good and well when we get to the giddy heights of changing lanes, but actually what I need at the moment is a sure-fire method of braking other than shouting “STOP!” at the top of my voice and lunging for the handbrake.
In Drama Queen No. 1’s defense, I have to say she has so far managed to control any manic urges and is a careful and consistent driver, and I am willing to admit that in fact the biggest problem is my vivid imagination and general nervous disposition.
Drunk driving has however acquiring a new meaning in our household, as I generally require a large glass pressed into my hand to revive me as I totter back in after a bit of roundabout practice. The thought of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is quite enough to make me long for the quiet serenity of the cabbage leaf days.