My daughter Annie turned 15 a week ago and here in Colorado that means she’s eligible to get a learner’s permit. Among the many things in life that don’t make sense to me, here’s one: It took her exactly ten minutes to pass a test that will enable her to drive a car. It takes her longer to understand an algebra problem that she will never, ever, ever face again in her life.
The nice lady at the place where Annie took the test told me that we should spend many hours driving with her before she takes her first of three 2-hour lessons (part of the combo classroom/lessons package we purchased). She also suggested we go to an empty parking lot and I go over all the controls with Annie and then let her start driving a bit. Ergo, the LDS lot. It’s the biggest one in my neighborhood and it was empty save one Toyota 4Runner. I turn off the car and Annie and I trade seats. We go over the controls. “Is this the gas?,” she asks pointing to the brake. I explain that that’s the brake and maybe start by just slowly taking your foot off of it and letting the car move without actually hitting the gas. The parking lot initially proves a challenge. Every synapse in my body feels like it’s responding to the sound effects from the shower scene in Psycho. Outwardly, I try to exude calm by joking. “Annie,” I say, as she veers alarmingly left, “we would have just hit five parked cars.” She laughs. We go around the parking lot about five times. I age, maybe, thirty years. I feel that my low blood pressure is waving to me in the rear view mirror. I can not endure, so I try to subtly end the lesson. “It’s like a video game, “ Annie says, as we switch seats. “Yeah, just like that,” I say. “Only at the worst you could get killed or kill someone else or in a lesser situation you could cost us many thousand dollars. So yeah, just like a video game.” Her look tells me I am not funny and that I am drifting into awful adult territory. I’m sure she’s right, but I have come unglued.
I realize, I am completely incapable of teaching my daughter to drive. I have trouble helping her with her language arts homework and I write for a living. So I do what I always do when panic overwhelms me, I call a mom who I know has lived through it. In this case, it’s my sister-in-law Michelle. Just the sound of her voice calms me. She tells me that she heard a lady call in to the Car Talk guys about this exact situation and they were hilarious. I need to digress and say that I am in LOVE with the Car Talk guys, Tom & Ray Magliozzi. They always make me laugh and I’m not even remotely a car person. I have interviewed them many times over the years. They told me not to date a guy who drives a BMW. They expounded on their theory that all women who drive Trans Ams are named Donna. When I was a golf editor, they rated golf carts for me. So they are my gods as far as four wheels are concerned and my sister-in-law says that they suggest that we NOT teach our children to drive. We older drivers don’t remember the rules (I’m lucky if I remember when it’s my turn for carpool) and we do everything by instinct. And finally, we all need one less reason to fight with our teenagers! Bless those New England gear heads. Bless them for being so right and for saving me. I can feel my blood pressure slowing to normal. As if to further prove their point, my sister-in-law tells me how she has always edged out from the stop sign at the end of her street so as to get an optimal view of traffic in both directions, and so her youngest daughter assumed that was proper stop sign technique. (It’s like that scene in CLUELESS when the cop pulls over Cher Horowitz because she runs a stop sign and she says “I totally paused.”) So my niece fails her first driving test because, according to the testing guy, she ran THREE stop signs. I am now laughing and looking up names of professional driving instructors. I can’t think of a more important gift for my daughter, for me, for mankind, for our future and the future of the minivan.
(Speaking of minivans, you can catch more of Kate Meyers at her fabulous website, IAMMINIVAN!)