Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Driving Lessons

In October, Son-Two got his learner's permit and promptly (well, within the week) drove the car over a curb and came to rest along a line of trees. All sorts of things contributed to this minor accident--I didn't give him enough warning to make the turn, he made the turn anyway (even though he was obviously going too fast), the grassy area on the other side of the curb was soft and wet from a week of rain causing us to slide much further than we would've otherwise and to be more thoroughly stuck once we stopped, we went over the curb at the top of a steep hill so even gravity played a part. There was no damage to our vehicle--nor to the trees--and while waiting for the tow truck to pull us out, two friendly town cops regaled us with stories of other drivers (many with much more experience) who had "failed to negotiate" (as the radio newscasters are fond of saying) this particular turn.

So we were none the worse for wear, except for $50 for the tow truck and a hit to Son-Two's driving confidence which was already sort of unstable. Sitting beside him when he's behind the wheel, it's obvious he's not convinced he's in control of the vehicle--even when all outward signs are good--speed reasonable, fully in his own lane, no weaving or wheel yanking, no gear grinding--Son-Two still radiates a discomfort bordering on outright fear that does nothing to calm his mother's frazzled nerves.

Daily practice for a few weeks made both of us feel a little better. Then he backed out of the driveway into a minister's car. (The GEICO is my hero accident.)

About a week after the accident--more of an incident really (other than the way in which it illustrated to me (not for the first time) that being a "man of the cloth" is no guarantee of a person's character)--we stopped at the landfill transfer station on the way to the boys volleyball practice. There are two bays there, where you back in so you can just toss your garbage out the back of your vehicle. One of the bays is deeper than the other and that's the one I usually use. On this particular day, though, it was occupied so I backed into the other one and promptly forgot (dragged into a debate on the relative merits of Scrubs vs. The Office or something equally earth-shattering) which bay I was in.

The bumper of the van connected--loudly--with the metal barrier designed to stop people (idiots like me) from driving their vehicles directly into the gigantic trash compactors. And Son-Two says, "Wow! Wonder where I get it from?"

Ha. Ha. But it made me think--and not for the first time--about whether I have any business trying to teach anyone how to drive. I've mentioned my stellar driving record--and it is, of course, family lore--so there have been occasional teasing questions, "You're teaching him to drive?!"

Well, yes I am. For a variety of reasons--including but not limited to temperament--Hubby is not an option in the driving teacher department. The school driver's education program is underfunded and understaffed and the waiting list is long and in any case, some parent-guided driving time would be necessary to supplement whatever time he could squeeze out with three other students in the car every time they went out.

Regardless of how bad a driver I am, he's stuck with me. Wondering how qualified I really am to teach Son-Two how to drive led me to wondering how qualified I am to teach any of them anything.

Little Sister and I used to joke that we were going to write a self-help book covering all the major life topics--parenting, marriage, career, family relationships--and call it What Not To Do because even though we had no idea how to do any of it right, through years and years of personal experience, we knew all about how not to do it.

I started getting depressed--thinking all I could pass along to my kids was a long list of things to avoid--when I remembered that my own mother had tried to pass along much the same list to me. Did I listen? No. Would I have listened even if she had nailed down the secrets of the universe? No. Would my kids listen to me? Probably not.

And thank goodness. Wisdom is non-transferable--there's no way to get it except by getting out there and figuring out all the ways there are to be unwise. And maybe knowing what not to do isn't such a small thing...we've definitely earned it...and my kids will have to earn it too.

Here's hoping Son-Two is soon done learning how not to drive.


  1. I would have to agree on your stellar driving. And do I recall you trying to run over someone in the parking lot at school????

  2. Well said.

    I have stories I could add, but won't on grounds I would incriminate myself.

    So we'll just leave it at well said.

  3. little sister1/19/07, 12:17 PM

    If it makes you feel any better, you taught me to drive and in twenty years of driving the only accident I have EVER been in was the recent one where my totally paid off vehicle was hit by a falling deer...In which case the deer was the only one to sustain injuries(sorry for the deer's lack of judgement)I did not leave my lane, no oncoming traffic was threatened by the experience, and I was able to stop in time to avoid having a deer in my windshield.(It bounced off of the hood and landed in the well manicured lawn next to the roadway.) I think I retained the "what not to do" list as well as the "what to do list" ...
    I hope it keeps working...[knock on wood.]

  4. I hit the piece of concrete that tell you to stop when you pull into the parking spot today so freaking hard that it really jolted Syd and I in our seats. She now is saying, Mommy make a big bonk. Hopefully she will NOT say this to Daddy.