This post was originally written for a digital publication. It was edited by the lovely and talented Melissa Locke Roberts and Leila Lewis. Thanks ladies!
The first time my daughter got behind the wheel of a car, it took her approximately one hour to back out of the driveway. (Midway we stopped for a snack and a bathroom break.) Hannah’s tentative approach was very much appreciated. A worse scenario had played out in my mind: Confidently starting the engine, squealing the wheels as she pulls out of the driveway, Hannah barrels down the neighborhood street, carelessly knocking over countless recycle containers.
Yes, it could have been worse. But she had miles to go (literally) before any of us felt comfortable.
Phase I: Classroom Instruction
Optimistically, my husband Joe and I took on the task of help-get-your-kid-a-driver’s-license. After a failed attempt at the parent-taught option, Joe scheduled lessons at the local driving school.
Each evening over the Christmas holiday, we drove our daughter to an aging strip mall and watched her walk into the most perfectly depressing environment. The front room was adorned with holiday decorations circa 1970. Garland was taped to the windows, and chipped metallic balls hung morbidly from the receptionist’s desk. The classroom consisted of desks seemingly collected from bulk trash pick-up. Mismatched, graffitied, broken, sad castoffs. I never walked into the place, but assume it smelled like gym socks.
So there she went. Our oldest child, Driving 101.
Two hours later, we picked her up.
Me: How did it go?
Hannah: Fine. We watched a gross film.
Silent me: Yes! Show them gross! They need to see gross! For once in her 15 years I am hoping my kid watched a graphically violent film.
Me (hopefully): Any cute boys in the class?
Hannah: Mom. Really.
Silent me: Darn.
Phase II: Behind the Wheel
Our child passes the classroom portion of driver’s ed, gets her permit, and is ready for Behind the Wheel. So we do what any overly protective parents would do. Once a week, we let her get into a car with a perfect stranger.
During their time behind the wheel, the two drivers are entertained with the instructor’s tales of travels abroad. This amazing man of Greek heritage fought off a hammerhead shark while snorkeling the barrier reef in Belize, wrestled an anaconda while canoeing the Amazon, and escaped the grasp of the Yeti while hiking the Himalayas. Between these sabbaticals, his career of choice is driving instructor. I am grateful. I feel no guilt in passing on this dreaded parental chore. I do not want to be in a vehicle that necessitates a brake on the passenger side.
Hannah survived her required hours unharmed. Between epic tales of adventure, the driving instructor must have had time to teach her a few things. Our budding motorist even survived the additional hours driving with Mom and Dad. Let’s just say memories were made. Stories will be told. Hannah will always say I stressed her out, and I will always say she stressed herself out. She will insist that I yelled. I will insist she yelled. We will always agree that Joe was a better passenger. And I will never be able to drive through a particular parking lot without shouting, “CURB!”
Phase III: The Test
Getting Hannah a slot to take her driving test could be compared to acquiring tickets to a Lady GaGa concert. Joe and Hannah chose a particular DPS office for the big event. Word had it that a) the lines were short and b) if you got lucky, the trooper would not make you parallel park. False and false.
Hannah arrived at 7:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning—every appointment for the day had already been filled. Joe and Hannah were advised to arrive at 6:30 a.m. (as in when the sun is not up). The DPS office does not open until 8 a.m. After discussing setting up a tent and camping out for a spot, they opted to sleep at home and leave the house at 6 a.m. I think I yelled good luck from bed.
The phone rang at 9:30 a.m. Hannah had passed. They were celebrating with breakfast at IHOP. Sweet. Mission accomplished.
On to the Next Challenge
I am still adjusting to the unavoidable reality that my daughter jumped a maturity hurdle. She is driving. She carries car keys, a license, and insurance. She drives herself to Sonic for a raspberry iced tea, and does not mind if her younger sister tags along.
Younger sister. Oh, dear. That means we will be doing this all over again. But I have a couple of years to recover. In the meantime—Hannah, please be careful.
Now, about those college applications…