For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching my oldest daughter to drive.
She’s a bit behind the rest of her friends when it comes to getting behind the wheel. Most of her friends can drive already. I pass them on the way back from dropping her off at school. But due to a combination of fear, procrastination, and sheer laziness my gal didn’t get her permit until just a few months ago. Then it was my turn to be lazy and procrastinate.
After she got her permit it just never crossed my mind to put her behind the wheel and actually teach her what to do. I had my mind on other things. When she would suggest a lesson, I was either in a rush to get home to make dinner, or it was bad weather…there was a million excuses. It just always seemed like such an inconvenience.
I finally gave her her first shot at driving on the way home from town one afternoon. I pulled over into an empty school parking lot to let her circle around a few times. It was amazing how many little things I had to show her. I’ve been driving for so long that many of the intricacies of driving are second nature to me. After a 5 minute lecture about what is where – blinkers, mirror adjusters, emergency brake – she put the car into drive and made a slow crawl around the parking lot.
Yet, after that we didn’t really do much driving. We would find a spot to let her practice here and there, but we weren’t doing it on a regular basis. Again, her learning to drive was off my radar – it wasn’t something I was actively concerned with. But I realized I had to make it a concern of mine. If we only went out every now and then she wasn’t ever going to get any better. Like an athlete in training, she needed lots of practice.
So, I’ve been making it a point to take her out every day. Usually we just drive around our neighborhood. Our development has a main road that makes a 10 mile loop. The speed limit is 25 which is perfect for someone just learning to drive. And you know what? She’s getting pretty good at it.
The daily flexing of her driving muscles is paying off. She’s maintaining the speed limit most of the time, and it’s been a few days since I had to grab the wheel to keep her from side swiping a mail box. She’s driven me to the supermarket a few times, which gives her parking practice as well, and she was brave enough to take the quicker route home along the major road the other day. That one has a 50 mph speed limit…she made it to 45, but that was about it.
I don’t have a whole lot of memories about learning to drive. I do recall one instance where when out driving with my dad, we went down the main street in Ridgefield Park, NJ. This road was narrow….really narrow with barely enough room for two cars to pass each other. There was street side parking as well, so driving down that stretch of road you almost felt like you were threading a needle. At least it seemed that way to a 16 year old behind the wheel of a Pontiac Catalina. I avoided that road until well after I got my license.
Oh, and getting my license? It took me two tries. I passed the written test easy, but I the driving portion was a bit trickier. The instructor I got for my first attempt was in a very bad mood, which made me nervous from the start. Here I am, happy as a clam to be taking my driving test, and this dude is filled to the brim with attitude. You took the test along a series of fake roads they had at the DMV. The roads were not very wide, and they had no dividing line painted down the middle.
I failed the parallel parking portion of the test, but that was to be expected. The cones were not set at a favorable distance for parking a Catalina – it was one big car. But when we returned to the designated starting/stopping point, he turned to me and said, “You failed.” He claimed I drove down the middle of the road the entire test. “Well,” I said, “the middle is all there is on those roads unless you wanted me to drive on the grass.” Sass was not an asset on this occasion.
The instructor I got my second time around was way cooler. I still failed the parallel parking part, but that day I left the Lodi DMV with a New Jersey driver’s license.
I’m hoping that by the time my girl starts college in the fall she’ll have her license. Our state sucks in that they require that you pay mega $$$$ to a driver’s school before they will issue you a license. I think it’s highway robbery – it costs almost $400 to take the driving course that isn’t going to teach her anything that I can’t. But sadly, there is no way around it. At least she’s learning like I did – in a very large car. The Sloviemobile is a Mercury Sable Wagon, a giant much like the Pontiac I learned in.
I’ll tell you, it will be nice to have another driver in the house. I’m not always in the mood to run to the store or drive my youngest to a friend’s house. That’s when I will gladly hand over the keys.
But then I’ll worry. I guess you can’t win.