Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Driving in circles...

I’m a parent. The parent of a teenager. The parent of a teenager learning to drive.


It’s only been a few months since our oldest daughter got her permit, but I’ve already figured out a thing or two about teaching a teen to drive.

First of all, the environment inside the car must be very Zen-like when the teen takes the wheel (and your life) into her hands.

Obviously, this is not the time to listen to music, read or text.

This is also not the time to ask the teen what kind of grade she got on her latest physics test, if she’s folded her laundry or written that thank-you note to Grandma yet.

Do not spook the teen driver.

Do not say or do anything that would make the teen take both hands off the steering wheel and both eyes off the road in front of her.

Don’t ask if a particular friend lives nearby, point out a cute squirrel on the sidewalk or gesture wildly when making a “very important point” about highway safety.

Try and control any outward reaction to her driving skills.

Don’t inhale too dramatically when she takes a turn too closely, or snort indignantly when she tells you to stop grabbing at the steering wheel.

Ask siblings in the back seat to restrain from making “helpful” comments while their big sister is driving.

The last thing the new driver wants to hear is critique from her 14-year-old sister on how good/bad she is doing.

You might think that having a new driver in the family is like having a free chauffeur to squire you around town so you can relax and enjoy the ride. You would be wrong.

A mom sitting next to the new driver is still mentally driving the car, except she has no control over the steering wheel, brakes or gas pedal.

Yeah, it’s so relaxing.

I’ve also learned to adopt a new way of talking during driving practice. I call it my air traffic controller voice.

I use my air traffic controller voice because I figure that our teen driver needs an instructor whose very presence exudes confidence and control. That someone is supposed to be me.

Using my air traffic controller voice, I calmly narrate what I see around us while she drives. I figure if I point out the potential driving hazards, hopefully she will also recognize them and we will all get home in one piece.

“OK, we have a car approaching,” air traffic controller mom reports. “He’s going to pass you. Ignore him, just maintain your speed and keep going forward. Good job. Over.”

My air traffic controller voice is meant to be the voice of reason, but I admit I don’t always end up sounding that way:

“OK, these two lanes are going to merge up ahead here. You have the right of way. Stay in your own lane, stay in your own lane, STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE!”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure air traffic controllers don’t end up yelling at their pilots, but they probably also don’t give them a high-five after they successfully parallel-park their 747s either.

With all my anxiety about practicing driving, I guess it’s no surprise that actually doing it has been a bit of an issue.

I can come up with about a thousand really good reasons why today is not a good day to practice driving, including:

I need to make dinner.

We need gas.

Is it getting dark?

Is that a raindrop?

Don’t you have a test to study for?

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got to stop being a baby about teaching my baby how to drive. We can’t just keep driving back and forth to Grandma’s house. We’ve got to practice, practice, practice.

We’ve gotta take on the biggies. I’m talking about Trancas Street at 5 p.m., the Bel Aire Plaza parking lot, left turns, that crazy five-way intersection at Coombsville Road, red-light-camera stoplights. We must conquer them all.

We might even have to drive on the highway.

I’ll definitely need tower control for that one.

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