I just want to go on record to admit that I am a horrible driving teacher. And I don’t think that my son would argue with me. As a parent, here’s what I’ve realized from the terrifying experience of having a teenager with a driver’s permit: If your own first memory involves anxiety and fear, you probably having no business teaching a teen to drive.
Exhibit A: When I was three years old, my older brother got to go to real school while I had to stay home with mom. On his first day of school, I was seriously pissed off that I couldn’t get on the bus with him. To stop my incessant whining, my mother and I struck a bargain: she would let me walk my brother down the driveway to the bus while she watched out the window. (That probably wouldn’t happen today, but it was the ’70s after all). Once the bus pulled away, I began a tortured trudge back to my boring house with no teachers or show and tell or recess with monkey bars and swings.
Suddenly, I noticed dark, wiggly tentacles extending across the pavement. Slithering. Like they wanted to wrap around my legs and drag me away. I considered closing my eyes and making a run for my house. But I feared the tentacles might catch me and drag me down below the earth. My heart galloping, I screamed and began to cry, frozen in place.
My mother rushed outside and, once she figured out the problem, proceeded to explain to me what shadows were. Yes, that’s right. I freaked out over a bunch of shadows. And I still remember it.
My faith in the world was shaken a little bit that day and has remained somewhat wobbly ever since.
If you have any fear-based formative memories like that and you still harbor a bit of anxiety today, I respectfully submit that perhaps you should outsource your teen’s learning-to-drive process to save your sanity. Asking an anxious person to teach an impulsive teen with poor direction skills to drive is like asking someone who faints at the site of blood to become an EMT for a year. Some things, especially those involving life or death, need to be left to professionals, or at the very least, non-panicky adults.
My son got his permit last summer but since he goes to boarding school, he doesn’t get a lot of driving practice. The last time we drove together was in December. It was raining and holiday shopping traffic in Dallas had built up to a crazed frenzy. My son was home from school for winter break and was eager to practice driving. I let him drive to a bookstore, determined to give calm, patient, wise instruction. The short trip went something like this:
Me: two hands on the wheel, please.
Son: I know, mom.
Me (seeing brake lights ahead): Be ready to stop.
Son (rolling eyes): I know, mom.
Me (slamming hands to dashboard as car cuts us off): Stopstopstopstopstop! Did you even see that guy?
Son: Can you please just say stop ONE time? Oh my God! I need to be medicated to drive with you!
Trembling younger son: Can I get out and walk?
Me: Can you just pull over and let me drive for now?
Son: Fine, forget it, I don’t even want a license.
Obviously, this is not a recipe for my son’s driving success or my family’s mental health. I have no idea how other anxious people teach their kids how to drive and survive the process. I’m all for persevering through fear and meeting life’s challenges but I’m also a believer in realizing when you are outgunned, so to speak.
My horoscope today tells me to “Ask for help and get it.” So before my son comes home for the summer and asks, “Can I drive?”, I want to submit this official letter:
With minor exceptions for country roads, I respectfully resign from being your driving instructor, effective immediately. I am gratefully transferring the reigns over to Dad and to the capable people (regardless of whether or not they pick their nails during your drive time) at the local driving school. I hope you understand this is for the good of all involved.
Phew. I feel calmer already.