A View From The Passenger Seat

My fifteen year-old son starts his Drivers Training this week. He has to take three weeks of classes at two hours a class. Then he needs 20 hours of behind the wheel (10 BTW and 10 observing). This is both an exciting and frightening time for me. While I am excited that he will soon be able to drive himself to see his friends and to various social events, I have to confess I'm a bit terrified at having to train him. I guess I did it with Sarah, so I can do it for him, but that doesn't make me want to.

I'll never forget the first time I took Sarah out driving in the abandoned WalMart parking lot. We pretty much went in circles for a half an hour and things were fairly calm. There was that one moment however when I told her to turn left and she took that to mean "turn kinda lazily to the left...whenever you want, no big hurry..."

To further endanger the two of us, she hadn't really dropped her speed during the non-turn, the lackadaisical turn, the roundabout turn, so we were headed directly toward a curb that led to a cyclone fence that surrounded a stormwater detention pond. I felt compelled, (yes, I'll use that term) to grab the steering wheel and yank it to the left, thereby saving us from at a minimum jumping a curb and perhaps even as much as conducting an underwater vehicular rescue in five feet of stormwater.

Luckily she hit the brakes shortly after I wrested the steering wheel from her control and we came to a safe stop. "What are you doing, dad?" she asked.

"I said turn left. Most of the time left means REALLY left." I replied. I didn't want to belabor the point by mentioning that rarely does it mean the kind of left she was executing. I also then pointed out the curb, fence and pond that we were heading towards. She took note and didn't make the mistake again.

These are teachable moments. Anxiously teachable moments. One every parent has experience, including my mom. I know I gave her a good scare during a high speed pass at the cabin when I was 16.

And she wasn't the only one. When I was in high school our instructor's name was Ed Altier. We called him Driver Ed, because that's what high school kids do. Kind of funny actually. Another name we gave him though was "sweaty Eddie," because he used to sweat profusely, often pitting out his short sleeve dress shirts, and partly because he was a nervous wreck.

Can't blame him for that, considering the battlefield that is a Driver Ed instructor's life. I'd be a bundle of nerves too. I had a friend who parallel parked the instructors brand new Plymouth K Car a little too close to the curb. The instructor admonished him by saying "You just ruined a $50 hub cab!"  The cost of doing business, I guess.

Anyway, during my six behind the wheel sessions Mr. Altier had to hit the "chicken brake" as we call it no less than 3 of those six times. By my calculations, that's a 50% mortality rate, right there. He might have saved three virtual lives. The whole experience was not terribly confidence building for me. When the lessons were over he said, rightfully so, "Well, you need A LOT more practice."

It turns out he was right. I've been practicing ever since, and my family still says I'm not ready for my license yet. I always said I didn't know I was a bad driver until I got married. Well, now that I have two teens and a wife telling me all of my driving faults, it's kind of fun to set them off intentionally, which I confess I do on occasion. It puts the fun into driving.

And so in short order I'll be back in the passenger seat again, gripping it with clenched fingers, stepping on my imaginary chicken brake and putting my spiritual life in order. I'll be there calmly issuing commands;

"Signal left here, check your mirrors, turn left. No, not right, left. Your other left, man, turn, turn, GIMME THAT WHEEL! Left I said!"

I'm certain I'll live through it, but prayers are always appreciated.

Blogging off...


The Queen Bee said…
I really, really feel for you Jim! Some or the most frightening experiences as a parent were as a passenger teaching my 4 children to drive!! SO very, very, happy that's over with...But wait...Cam is just a little younger than Ben - he'll be 15 in July - are grandparents at all beholden to teaching their grandkids how to drive?? Probably not, but I'll still end up being a passenger at some point once he gets his license! I'm scared - again!!

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