My daughter is learning how to drive. These days, for whatever reason, it seems like a lot of kids are scared or uninterested in driving. Thankfully, that is not the case with her – she is excited about it while also having a healthy respect for the 3,000-pound steel machine she is driving.
I take a deep breath each time I get in the passenger seat and she takes the wheel. She chastised me at first for occasionally checking my phone, so I put it away and give her (and the road) 100% of my attention. Sure, I hang on to the handle and wince when she gets too close to the curb, mailboxes and cars on my side, but I try to be calm, pleasant and encouraging. And yes, I do yell occasionally. When you fear for your life, it’s involuntary.
I have noticed something interesting about this process. Normally when I pick her up from school, her face is glued to her phone. I ask how her day was and get the perfunctory, “fine.” When she is driving, she is not distracted by her phone. She even asks, “How was your day?” The first time this happened I looked around to see who she was talking to and realized it was me. This is an unanticipated benefit of being the parent most able to drive with her and I’m actually enjoying it.
She has to have 60 hours of driving in order to get her license. She has about 20 hours so far and is really a good driver. If the rules were different, I would feel comfortable at this point sending her on the road alone. But since I’m a rule follower and she’s not eligible anyway for seven more months, I am going to savor the next 40 hours driving around with her. She’s my captive audience so I feel free to regale her with any thought that comes into my head and I can’t see every eye roll since we’re both looking at the road.
We joked that maybe she could be an Uber driver so she could make some money while racking up driving hours. “Don’t mind her – that’s just my mom,” she would tell her passengers.
I give the usual advice, like “You may be a good driver but it’s all the other stupid people out there who you have to watch out for.” I don’t want to disparage the other humans, but they do some dumb things. I point out these transgressions and try to teach her how to respond calmly and avoid road rage at all costs. I also try to note when a “courtesy wave” might be in order when another driver does something nice, although I fear those nice waves are becoming obsolete, kind of like my land line.
I am slowly introducing things that can be distracting to a new driver, like music. The radio was an epic fail because too much attention is needed to change the station when you don’t like the song. We settled on Spotify where she can request a playlist and I am in charge of the controls. We happily listen to her favorite Broadway soundtracks as we drive amiably side by side.
Sometimes we talk and sometimes we don’t. Watching her occasionally belt out a favorite tune is a joy and makes me nostalgic for the little girl she used to be who was carefree and uninhibited. In my mind’s eye, I see her alone on the open road in the not too distant future, relishing the freedom to go where she wants and singing her heart out where no one can hear. It reminds me of the awesome independence and pure joy that I felt at that time in my life. I try to focus on the positives of her being a solo driver and not become paralyzed by my fears.
Anytime I would go somewhere in the car that required using the highway, my mother always lamented, “Nooooo…not the Beltway!” I never succumbed to that fear and don’t want my daughter to either, so we’ve already taken to the open road. Did I mention that she drives our old minivan? It gives me what is probably a false sense of security, but I’ll take it.
Next on the driving agenda is incorporating navigation, which entails glancing at the screen and listening to directions. It’s a lot going on – figuring out when to actually make those turns. A girl’s got to know how to get where she’s going after all and it’s a comfort to know she won’t get lost. The navigator never yells at the driver either – it just gently re-routes – so there’s that.
I hope she’ll look back on these days as fondly as I do. She won’t always have her mom along for the ride.