Student Driver

Remember putting your child on the school bus for the first day of kindergarten and crying because it was so scary to send them out into the cruel world alone and unprotected? Me too. Her curls bounced as she bounded up those steps in her shiny new school shoes ready to take on the world.  I smiled and waved until the bus turned the corner then sat on the steps and cried real tears thinking surely this milestone was the hardest. HA!

Many more difficult times layed in wait for me. So many times over the years I have watch her struggle, fail and grow with more grace than her poor mother regulated to the sideline. Watching an anxiety ridden preteen face down a middle school bully was especially harrowing. Yet all these things pale in comparison to handing over a set of car keys.

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I was literally putting my life and the lives of others in her hands. In the hands of a child…who takes very little seriously…who can not possible know what its like to lose something  precious…who does not know that she is precious. I was sick with terror.

I remember being a teen learning to drive. A boyfriend taught me in his mustang on a country road in rural WV. It had a manual transmission. My biggest fear was embarrassing myself with the clutch. He was laid back and confident I wouldn’t scratch the cherry red paint. I hadn’t even bothered with a learners permit yet.

This was very different and not just because I was in the passenger seat this time. To begin with, I handed over keys to my still relatively new suv. I am not even a year into a large car loan and don’t even get me started on insurance. We live in a good size suburb of an urban area. Even the neighborhood streets are busy with bike riders and moderate traffic. This was not like keeping it between the ditches on an old back road.

Before we backed out of the driveway, we discussed the gravity of the situation.  I tried to impose the responsibility of driving what amounts to a very dangerous weapon on her soul with my words of warning and grave tone. I received an ” I know mom” huff in response. Ascertaining that the coast was as clear as we were likely to get and all proper precautions given, I  let her put the car in gear.

Until this point in my life, the word horror had no meaning.  I had to shut my eyes and concentrate on not vomiting.  Having had zero experience negotiating gas and brake petals, she zoomed backward out of the driveway at breakneck speed promptly hitting the curb across the street with back tires. I screamed stop resulting in her stomping the brake and squelching the tires again. We sat there for a second in the middle of the road each processing. 

When I  began to order her to put it in park, she jumped in to say she was sorry and just nervous. “Its ok. I got it now. I promise. ” I  was not reassured,  but I tried to tell myself that it takes practice  and that everyone has to learn. She put it in drive and with more confidence straightened up and eased forward.  For about 9 seconds,  I was brave and supportive. We passed a car coming toward us with only a little fright and she got cocky and picked up too much speed.

I yelled to slow down. More than once. She slowed slightly.  I yelled again. More I got it moms. Some slight slowing. I told her to come to a complete stop and prepare to turn. She took forever to stop- for.ev.er. There was more yelling. Stay on your side of the road, slow down, get over more, slow down, slow down, slow down. 15 miles an hr felt like 200. It was awful, for us both, but mostly me.

We circled the block, with me becoming increasingly hysterical, back to our driveway where the trip ended with her almost crashing into a telephone pole and then my husbands truck. She put it in park half in the road, half in the driveway, left the car door wide open and stomped into the house. It took several minutes to unclench my fingers from the door handle and make my way around to the drivers door on legs shaking so hard I could barely walk.

My husband stood on the front stoop laughing. I hope he enjoyed it. Next time, he would be handing over his own keys and sitting in the passenger seat. I’m sure the view from the stoop will be hilarious.

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