Driving Lessons

car keys

As school budgets shrink and vital programs get axed, I believe we have lost something CRUCIAL to humanity—DRIVERS ED.  Clearly the brilliant superintendant that made this monetary cut had GROWN children.

Parents have now been tasked with a horrifying job—teaching their child to drive.  Sure, if you have an extra thousand dollars or two, you can hire Master Drive to sit next to your kid and freak out—but for the rest of us peasants, we are the sacrificial lambs handing over our keys with fear and trembling.

As my oldest approached sixteen, I closely watched other parents turn co-pilot.  And people I’m here to tell you…it’s not pretty!

I see their faces rolling up at the school drop off—cocky teens and terrified women with mottled red cheeks instructing/shrieking at their freshly permitted kid behind the wheel.  Behind the teen’s back, the moms grumble the charge befallen them and dad suddenly recalls his schedule is slammed for the next six months—or at least until the child is a licensed driver.

So what’s a scared stiff parent to do when their teen get’s a driving permit?

It’s seems we have a choice—view it as an “ordeal” or as an assignment.  Maybe driving can be a rite of passage for both child and parent?

I know I wanted something radically different—a FUN memory—not a “have to” but a “want to.”  I can honestly say I was scared—scared for my car and my personal safety but I was willing to figure it out because I love my kid.

Here’s a snapshot of my journey teaching Kyle to drive.

–Summer 2014

Even before the informal driving education begins I want to know what I’m dealing with.  So, I take Kyle out to an empty high-school parking lot at night.

(And truthfully I mumble many foul words under my breath)

Kyle runs over curbs and goes from zero to forty in 2 seconds flat.  I’m petrified and Kolby screams.

But after a few days, I agree (reluctantly) to try again and he surprises me and catches on pretty quick.  After a few basic lessons, I’m about ready to let him loose on a real road.  Whew!

Getting the Permit

Kyle takes an exhaustive online driving course.  In fact, it takes so long he can’t seem to finish it between school and year-round football training.  It’s an 80 hour class and by his sixteenth birthday he’s only 2/3rd complete.  Then his friend tells him about an app that takes about 2 hours.  In one evening he has passed and is ready for the exam at the DMV.

Lesson Learned—the long class taught Kyle valuable driving knowledge but ultimately wasn’t the best option for my kid with his busy schedule.

–September 2014

My now rather cocky 16 year-old and his dad head to the DMV after booking an online appointment.  The CA DMV is so slammed it took a MONTH to get in.  YOUZA!  We have to pull Kyle out of Mass to go(he goes to a Catholic school).  I feel a little guilty about this, but since we aren’t Catholic it doesn’t last too long.

Sadly, after waiting in the line from hell (with an appointment no less), he misses the cut-off by 1 point.  His dad drives him back to school and he calls me with a gloomy voice.

And I choke back the words, “I told you it was a tricky test” but the laughter in my voice belies my true feelings.  Kyle’s little sisters are not so nice.  They mock him outright.

So…we have to repeat the whole process two weeks later.

This time, thanks to another app his friend tells us about that quizzes him on his iPhone, he PASSES!

I now have a permitted child!

Oct 2014

Kyle wants to drive everywhere.  To school, to church, to run errands he never wanted to go on before. It’s mildly annoying at first, and then I realize I need to take advantage of this situation for as long as I can.  I now have a sober and dedicated driver.

(Woot woot!)

It makes Friday nights at Ruby’s after a football game highly amusing!  I can have a glass of wine (or two) and not worry about checkpoints and DUI’s.

But more importantly, the more Kyle practices the less stressed I actually him.  Kyle is an easy kid.  He actually listens and self-corrects.  I learn to “quietly” coach and let him do his thing.  We make a good team together and my son is becoming an excellent driver.

By November we are ready for the freeway.  We start by driving one exit and we survive.  Then we move on a little further.  One day we drive all the way to South Coast Plaza—about 30 minutes from Ladera.  Kyle is tense but elated to drive the whole family.  We arrive in one piece and  I’m so proud of him I buy him a big frothy Starbucks Frapachino which he promptly tries to drink with one hand on the wheel while driving back on the freeway.  I quickly nix that idea.  We are not yet ready for one handed stunt-driver maneuvers.

Danger, Danger!

One very late night, after a football game and post-game celebration, I follow my husband and son home.  Kyle is driving my car and I follow in Tim’s Expedition.  As we pull up to a light on a deserted road Kyle cautiously turns right.  Out of the corner of my eye I see lights whip up behind me, the speeding car cuts me off and then swerves around Kyle.  Technically, Kyle is in the wrong because he switched lanes on the turn but only because he thought no one was behind him (other than me).  The guy going 80 lays on the horn and scares the hell out of my kid.  I watch helplessly behind.

Lesson learned!  Kyle, stay in your lane and watch your back.  Lesson for Mama—I can’t control other drivers.  So, I pray more!

Favorite Part of this Driving Deal:

Initially, neither Tim nor Kyle’s dad want to drive with him.  (No judgment here) So, it’s just the two of us learning to do this.  Kyle is learning how to grow up and I am learning how to let go.  It’s a beautiful dance of give and take and secret tears (mine) and occasional annoyance (his).  But together we figure it out.

I begin to treasure our time driving.  In fact, sometimes I am so happy I try not to weep.  Kyle has to pay full attention to the road.  He can’t text or call friends.  It’s just the radio and mom.  I revel in the special time knowing how fleeting this moment is.

My days of being his chauffeur are over.

And I will be BOTH ecstatic and heartbroken. 

Where has the time gone?  How can this boy who gave me one of the greatest gifts of all—motherhood—be so grown up?

This boy—my blue-eyed, golden curled toddler who vaulted like a monkey out of his crib at 18 months will pull out of the driveway and wave goodbye.

This young man—a determined leader, a fiercely devoted son and friend, a great athlete and lover of God and family will get his license in 10 weeks—hopefully on the first try—and I will be miserably overjoyed for him.

(Tear, hiccup, another tear…)

Biggest takeaway:

Don’t pay someone else to teach your child to drive (unless you are a suck driver).  Although I was truly frightened, it’s an experience I will stuff in my memory box of priceless treasures.

Here is what I (also) recommend:

  1. Create a safe environment for your kid to learn
  2. Surrender Control
  3. Believe in Your Kid
  4. Enjoy the Drive
  5. And Launch!

Good Luck!


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