Riley, who turned sixteen (!!) recently, is learning to drive. He’s less geared towards getting his license than I was at his age, while I couldn’t wait to take the test and can still remember the whole-bodied sorrow of failing it on the first try (damn you Corvallis DMV and your intentionally confounding one-way loop of a parking lot which resulted in an auto-fail when I went in the wrong way at the end), Riley hasn’t been in a huge hurry.

He has his learner’s permit, though, and he does want to get his license soon, so we’ve been going on driving outings together.

By “we” I specifically mean Riley and me, because my car is easier to drive than John’s big-ass truck, plus — I truly believe this is more of a Public Knowledge thing and less of a Questionable Internet Overshare — John is kind of an obnoxious backseat driver. (“What? I just don’t like not having control, is that so weird??”)

We started out in a parking lot, then graduated to driving the neighborhood loop before slowly expanding out into different areas. Riley is a super nervous driver and I feel a lot of internal pressure to be, like, so many things for him during these outings. Calming, reassuring, corrective (but not over corrective!), while seamlessly switching back and forth between light-hearted patter and clear directional instruction (including using the word “correct” because “right!” gets SUPER FUCKING CONFUSING).

There was a bad moment at the end of a drive the other day, where Riley was turning left at an intersection and failed to yield to the oncoming traffic. Just a newbie mistake, but it was briefly quite frightening — incoming T-bone to the passenger side! — and I did not keep my chill. I was scared, then angry, he was scared and defensive, it was … not great, in terms of bolstering his confidence.

The two of us were coming home from a drive yesterday, our first since the near accident, and I could tell he was planning to avoid the intersection. Let’s go through that light, I said, and he was like nope. No way no how noperino that’s a hard no it’s a no from me dawg and for the following reasons I am out, etc.

So I pushed back, and he pushed back, and pretty soon it wasn’t really a two-people-arguing-about-a-thing thing, it was a parent-laying-down-the-law thing, and I am here to tell you that I felt TERRIBLE. I felt like I felt when he was a baby and I would hold him down so the pediatrician could push a needle into his shocked little arm.

I forced him to drive to that light and navigate his way through it and I cannot describe how much I did not want to do that, but I did, and I knew it was the right thing as soon as he successfully made the turn and actual glittering sparkles of relief and fuck yessss came flying off of him and for the rest of the whole day it’s like his feet were barely touching the ground.

What he probably didn’t realize is that I was the same way. Floating along in a sea of whew, because he’s not the only one learning as he goes.

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You know, once I was fully vaccinated I felt so enormously protected in terms of spreading COVID-19. I felt as though in the midst of this shiteous pandemic with all these terrible ongoing repercussions I had been given the miraculous opportunity to take myself out of the equation. All the mysterious grim algorithms driving who gets sick and how badly, I could just remove myself from ALL of that fucked-up math because I was fully protected which meant everyone was fully protected from me.

I have been having a really hard time accepting the fact that none of us have the luxury of thinking this way anymore. Of course, if everyone was vaccinated we almost certainly could, but that’s not the case because too many people are terrible and/or terribly foolish/misinformed.

So now we all have to forge onward in this new world of probably you won’t accidentally kill that person you just walked by but WHO EVEN KNOWS ANYTHING AMIRITE which I suppose is technically how we have always lived but it sure feels more goddamned fraught.

Meanwhile, I now sneeze three times. THREE TIMES, that’s how many times I sneeze, consecutively, whenever I sneeze. Three rapid full-bodied sneezes, complete with Michael Jackson crotch-grab if I’m alone (because I’m a slave to the rhythm just kidding my pelvic floor is nearly half a fucking century old), which is not at all a thing I ever used to do. In fact, I’ve always been secretly irritated by multiple sneezers, like one is worthy of a “Bless u” then the second one you kind of politely ignore, but a third?? IN A PANDEMIC??? Who even DOES that, except now I know who: Me. ME! Three sneezes and don’t even try to completely stop the third while you’re in the frozen aisle at Safeway or you will make a horrifically loud fart-squeak out the side of your stupid mask and no one will be protected from you being you, NO ONE.

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