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.


8 Responses to “Brave front”

  1. Mary on October 10th, 2021 7:46 pm

    I admire you so much for being able to do that. My dad taught me, my mother was completely tempermentally unsuited. I so wanted to be like my dad, but sadly, I am not. My oldest son backed my almost new car into a truck, I almost had a stroke, and after that their dad took them out. Fortunately he’s a really good teacher and they’re all good drivers. But that isn’t how I wanted to be.

  2. parodie on October 11th, 2021 1:16 am

    This parenting thing doesn’t really get easier when they get older, does it? Well done!

  3. g~ on October 11th, 2021 5:10 am

    This resonates. That delicate balance of “I need you to do what I say without hesitation RIGHT THIS INSTANT or we will DIE” mixed with a patient encourager is challenging to strike when you see your lives flashing before your eyes. I have never lost my mind in a worse way than when teaching my teenager how to drive.

  4. Anonymous on October 11th, 2021 9:38 am

    I have an 18-year-old who is licensed (and is a good driver, but I still have a small measure of fear EVERY time he takes the car out). I also have a 15-year-old who is GUNNING to get her license, god help me. Gearing up my go-to refrain of, “brake. Brake! BRAKE!” Godspeed to all of us teaching teens to drive.

  5. ANDREA on October 11th, 2021 10:17 am

    I always knew my oldest would be an excellent driver, and had no real hesitation getting in the car with him behind the wheel. My middlest-I drove with him one time while he had his learner’s permit, and then not until he had had his license for a very long time. I had more faith in my youngest, and was more comfortable with her driving. I did turn the passenger side of the car into the Flintstone Mobile several times, breaking through the floor. My favorite quotes from that period of time are, “You do know the cars parked along the side of the road aren’t targets, don’t you?” Said in no not such a proud moment. My other is when my musician daughter asked how to keep the tempo up on hills. All 3 go their licenses at 16, but none of them were in the frantic, “OH MY GOODNESS I am going to be 16 on Wednesday, and must take my driving test,” lane like I was.

  6. mary clare on October 11th, 2021 1:12 pm

    Learning to judge the oncoming traffic and the time needed to turn is a skill that takes some practice. I failed my own first driving test when I made a right turn onto a busy street as cars came bustling toward us. No accident thank goodness, but I could tell it was too close for comfort as soon as it I did it. Doh. I admire your persistence as a teacher.

  7. Elizabeth_K on October 12th, 2021 6:30 am

    A friend and I were JUST talking about how after our first crashes, our grandmothers BOTH made us go back out and get RIGHT BACK IN THE CAR. It does sound terrifying (looks askance at 13 almost 14 year old …) but you were EXACTLY RIGHT. And I’m glad you both floated through the day …

  8. Lisa on October 13th, 2021 1:01 pm

    My dad taught me how to ride a bike but when it came to teaching me how to drive, he bowed out and had my mom do it. We practiced in parking lots and in cemeteries, believe it or not! We did a little genealogy research and the atmosphere was perhaps my mom’s not-so-subtle hint about the potential perils of driving. When it came time for my younger sister to learn, I taught her and then I taught my boyfriend when I was in my 20s who didn’t get his license as a teenager. My mom laid a good foundation. Good luck, safe travels!

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