Some people are suited for jobs like transporting plutonium or teaching their children to drive. I am not. When my fifteen-and-a-half-year-old daughter got her learner’s permit I called it my license to drink. Not because she became eligible to be my designated driver, like some of my party-hearty friends suggested, but because she’d drive and I’d need a drink.
She’s not a bad driver; it’s just that I feel things deeply even before they happen. Take my driveway, for example. It is short, yet steep, with a sudden sharp left turn. It requires speed and force to scale the rise, but it also requires finesse and a well-timed release of the gas pedal to turn sharply enough to clear the wall without leaving skid marks on the concrete.
Many have tried and failed. The plaster wall is scarred, dinged, and dented by those whose bravado trumped their dexterity. As a passenger, I see that wall looming in my future. I lurch left, clutch the center console, and brace for air-bag deployment while my daughter lays a smoking strip of rubber on the ground with full audio accompaniment.
“That was pretty good, honey,” I cough out attempting to be supportive.
She rolls her eyes. “You know that’s not helping.”
Like I said, I feel things deeply even before they happen. I know the thump thwap hiss sound and feel of taking out a mailbox or side-swiping a car, so even though I start out all centered and calm, muttering my I-will-be-patient mantra, I can get pretty jumpy and lose my Zen.
“STOP! STOP! STOP!” I scream while slamming on my imaginary brakes, trying to avoid hitting the pedestrian who’s wandered into our path. I’m acutely aware that the only outcome of my frantic braking is a matted footprint on the passenger-side carpet. Permanent visible proof of the many things I can’t control.
So far we’ve practiced day driving and night driving, multiple-lane and rush-hour driving, complicated intersection driving, rain driving and parking. This is not helping my aging face or frail psyche and I am wondering if I will need to sign up for AA or at least the Botox frequent-user program.
I am further wondering, who thought up this government-sanctioned activity? A Darwinian theorist? An angry stepdad? Seriously, who puts someone who still sleeps with stuffed animals and has a frontal lobe resembling Swiss cheese behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle, gasses it up and watches what happens?
My daughter claims she’s been ready to drive since she was eight years old, and I have my brother and sister-in-law to thank for that. At three, my brother let her sit in his lap and steer while they drove in a parking lot in Florida. At eight, when legally she should’ve been strapped into a car seat in the back, my sister-in-law let her navigate on the public streets of New Jersey.
And now, while my relatives are cozy in their home states, I’m wrecking my liver in California.
This brings us to my husband, who further baited our daughter’s taste for the road by taking her for a few spins, months before she even had a permit, yet is now MIA during most of our expeditions.
“I’m more like Dad when it comes to driving,” my daughter says coolly as she whizzes along with one hand on the steering wheel.
“Dad got two tickets last month.” I remind her, noting that she’s doing 45 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Admittedly, I didn’t come joyfully to the role of driving coach, but I didn’t expect the one-two sucker punch that lay in store. A blow to the nerves followed by a swift jab to my ego. For years I’d doused my daughter with the pearls of wisdom I thought would guide her through life’s toughest circumstances; things like, “Manners cost nothing, but their value is priceless”; “Stand for something or you’ll fall for everything”; “Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better”; and the gold standard, “Always wear clean underwear.”
But what does she remember? Dad’s one and only tip for life: “Avoid a ticket: never be the first one down the hill.”