April 28, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Driver’s ed is lesson for Mom, son

By Correspondent
 

He tossed his head and his shaggy blond bangs shrouded his blue eyes. “How’s this?” he asked as he flashed an oversized grin. “The girls call this my Joker smile.”

I sighed and squirmed, trying to get comfortable on the beige plastic chair at the Department of Licensing. “I like it. It’s cute,” I replied to my son.

“Gosh, Mom! It’s supposed to be scary – horrifying, even!”

Zachary and I were at the DOL to get his learner’s permit. In a few months’ time I’ll have three children who are licensed to drive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While we waited for his number to come up, Zack practiced his “photo face.”

“How ’bout this one?” He turned his head to the side and glowered sullenly.

“I’m pretty sure you have to face the camera,” I told him.

He slouched back in his seat to consider his options. When his number finally came up, Zack had trouble passing the vision test. His eyesight is just fine, but he had trouble keeping his hair out of his eyes long enough to see the letters.

As we walked out to the parking lot Zack said, “I want to drive home.” And a chill ran up my spine.

I’m not sure how teaching my sons to drive ended up on my list of parental responsibilities. I felt the same way about potty training and shoe tying. Yet here I stood in the parking lot of the DOL while my third-born reached for the keys.

“You can drive from the end of our block to the driveway,” I said.

The fact that Zack had never operated a motor vehicle didn’t deter him. When we reached our street, he slid behind the wheel and draped his arm across the seat. His confidence seemed to stem from the fact that he’d held the title of Mario Kart racing champ in our family for several years.

As he waited for my instructions, I realized why teaching someone to drive can be so challenging. After years spent behind the wheel you forget how many important details have become purely instinctual. Details like keeping your foot on the brake when you put the car in gear.

“Stop!” I yelled. Well, Zack says I yelled. I think I simply spoke in a loud, firm voice.

Zack is a sensitive soul, so when I emphatically said things like, “Hit the brakes, not the gas! Are you trying to kill us?” he took it personally.

“You’re crushing my heart, Mom, you really are,” he said.

We made it to our driveway without causing significant mayhem, and I hoped the damage to Zack’s psyche was as negligible. He mustn’t have been too traumatized, because the next day he was ready for more behind-the-wheel adventure. I, however, was busy plucking out my newly-sprouted gray hairs. “C’mon Ma,” he said, and jangled the keys.

When my nerves stopped jangling I joined him in the car. I bowed my head over the steering wheel to gather my courage. “What?” Zack asked. “Do you think I’m a bad driver? You do, don’t you?”

I looked into his sweet eyes and told the truth. “No. You’re just inexperienced. You’ll do much better today.”

He muttered something about his wounded spirit and broken soul.

I ignored him and drove to a shopping center where I’d taken his brothers on their first drives. Zack took the wheel and slowly navigated across a deserted area of the parking lot. He practiced right turns, left turns and backing up. With every successful maneuver his confidence grew.

Soon, it was time to practice parking. He headed toward the storefronts, found an empty spot and expertly parked between the yellow painted lines.

“Wow!” I said. “You did great – that was awesome!”

Zack beamed his Jokerish grin. “You know what the best part is?” he asked.

“What?”

He pointed to the store he’d parked in front of. “On Monday, I get to tell my driver’s ed teacher I drove my mama to the liquor store!”

I groaned and slumped in my seat. In five years, I’ll have another son clutching a learner’s permit and begging to go for a drive. When that happens, I’ll tell him to go ask his father.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.


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