One more time, I tell myself.
I only have to teach a kid to drive one more time and then I can relax in the knowledge that I won’t have to witness a stop sign careening toward my face, feel the skull-rattling jerk of brakes being slammed, and endure the argument that, “I saw it and knew I could stop. I’m not trying to sneak up on the stop sign, ya know…”
The last of the Heirs will be getting his license in August, at which point my life expectancy will increase by 40 years. Until then, I marvel at how quickly a long-time ex-Roman Catholic slips into those “Hail Marys.”
The process is a reminder of just how mindless driving has become for me over the past 33 years. How do you describe in words the maneuver of making a left turn? He signals, stops for oncoming traffic, turns the wheel left, steps gradually on the gas, we turn, and he turns the wheel straight. Simple, right? Then how come I’m crammed against the door like I’m on a Tilt-A-Whirl?
“Ease into the turn,” I suggest.
“I did. There was easing…”
“There was no easing. It doesn’t have to be a right angle turn. Just a gentle curve.”
So he starts the next left a half mile from the actual turn, then looks at me with one of those grins that makes you want to slap them. “Eeeasing into the turn.”
He’s ordered to the side of the road and I take over driving.
The next session I try to explain the concept of gradual acceleration, with the knowledge that half the drivers in the country have not yet mastered this technique.
“Unless you’re on a freeway with vehicles barreling down on you, there is no need to gun the motor like that,” I say, my back plastered to my seat and listening to my poor Outback motor grinding through its automatic gears.
“The sign says 55 mph,” he insists.
“Not in two seconds.”
“Where in the regulations does it say that?”
This brings up the hardest point to make with a teenager: the fact that there is something beyond the legalities of driving. There are the issues of driving to maintain your car properly – rather, driving to maintain my car properly – and driver courtesy.
“Take your foot off the gas,” I tell him as another driver goes to pass him on a two-lane highway.
“I was going to the limit,” he snarls, pressing down on the pedal. “He didn’t have to pass.”
“It’s not your job to police him, just to make things safe.” I have to admit that being passed when I’m going the limit (or more…) irritates me, so I can’t really scold him too much. But I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you can’t ever go fast enough because some people just need to be in front.
He is still a little rattled by heavy traffic on the interstate, but as the weeks progress his entering and exiting starts to smooth out. Still, when the tractor trailers are particularly thick, his nerves start to fray. I have to remind him to blink and breathe.
“Just stay in your lane and let them by,” I say as evenly as I can with my heart blocking my throat as his steering gets a little jittery. I realize how much of driving is a matter of faith – faith that none of those 15-ton rigs driving on top of each other’s bumpers will have any reason to slow down suddenly. I don’t mention that possibility to Heir 2, but judging by his grip on the steering wheel, he’s already contemplated the scenario.
Finally we reach our exit. He pulls to the side.
“You did fine. I wasn’t yelling at you…”
“I know. I don’t feel like driving anymore. Let’s go home.”
We switch places. He happily switches around on a CD his brother burned for me for Mother’s Day, making funny comments on some selections, pretending to head bang to others. He talks me into stopping for a soda.
This is familiar. This is what we’re used to. I’m relaxed and happy. My baby needs me.
He comes out of the convenience store and stands by the driver’s window.
“I’m okay now,” he says and I reluctantly go back to the passenger side. He pulls out of the parking lot and heads back to the interstate.
My whole body is in panic mode – except for that little piece of me that can’t help but feel a little proud.