Jesus, Take the Wheel! My Son is Driving!

Picture of the mountains and countryside from the backseat window as my son drives and my husband coaches. Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

Those adrenalin-pumping, heart-stopping, hug-the-curves-with-the-car, hang-on-tight-to-the-door-handle days of motherhood are here and I think I need a rear-facing car seat. I thought morning sickness went away for good, but it comes back when a child gets a learner’s permit. Luckily, since I’ve done my part by giving birth, my husband Nate will take over the driver’s ed, but I can’t resist just one ride-along with my son and husband. Oh, the thrill of navigating the subtle complexities of the gas and brake pedals! How relieved I am to never have to relive those days again—except through Alex, who catches on quicker than I did. Thank goodness. So, if you have a teen in the house who, just moments earlier, fell down a flight of stairs and spilled a cup of milk all over the table, but now wants your car for parallel parking practice, here are a few tips for the first 72 hours because that’s all the further I’ve gotten with this exciting and very special stage of motherhood so far.

What to Expect When Your Child Expects To Drive: The First 72 Hours:

1) Face unexpected questions and answers at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I did not go with Alex to the DMV, but Nate did and he came back with all kinds of stories. Actually, Alex came back home with the first story of the day, because Nate had to return to work. Alex burst through the door and said, “Mom! I joined the military!” According to witness accounts, I turned extremely pale and frantically texted Nate the following message: “What the hell happened? He was supposed to get a learner’s permit—for a car! Not an Army tank!” Nate called back and assured me that he was simply asked if he was going to register when he turned 18. Alex replied, “Yes.” Alex and Nate were not prepared for this question because Alex is not 18 yet, but apparently, they ask it ahead of time these days—just to “plant the seed” I guess.

Of course, they always ask about donating organs, but Nate and I forgot to prepare Alex for this question as well. So, when it came up, Alex was completely confused—and terrified. The woman who helped Alex let him take home an informational card and make a decision about donating organs when he gets his actual license. So, when Nate and Alex left the DMV with the learner’s permit, the first question out of Alex’s mouth was NOT, “Can I drive the car home?” Instead, it was:

“How will they know I’m dead?”

“They’ll just know, son. There are a lot of tests they do. They don’t just take your organs.”

“Don’t let them take my eyes, Dad! Don’t let them take my eyes!”

So, what teens learn from this experience is that the DMV is an extra special place that offers a lot more services than just driving. Perhaps role-play with your teen or watch a few episodes of “Fear Factor” or “Naked and Afraid” to prepare.

2) Have your child drive the car with someone who is calm and reasonable. This step is more complex than it sounds, so I’ll break it down further, using examples from my own experience.

–Resist the urge to start the day with a bowl of Captain Crunch and a tumbler of Chardonnay.

–Sit in the back of the car, if you are not the “calm and reasonable” one in the family. In fact, Nate had some incredibly useful instructions for me to pass along, which I’ve summed up here, from his final words before we got into the car:

“Please. Just . . . can I get you a blindfold? Maybe a blindfold might be a good idea? In any case, try to avoid making that “sucking in of the breath” sound you make when I pull into traffic—maybe don’t grip the handle on the side of the car so much?”

Another photo snapped from the back of the car. Alex is at the wheel and Nate is instructing. Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

–Grip the handles of the car, if you’re in the back seat. No one will know.

–Take lots of pictures. Sweat rings in the armpits of t-shirts fade. Pictures on Facebook last forever.

–Lamaze breathing techniques do not take the edge off of childbirth pain—or teen driving.

3) Beam with pride when you realize your child has done really, really well and you can see the road to independence opening up on the horizon and the sun is shining and all is right in the world. Also remember that self-driving electric cars are bustling about on that sun-bedazzled horizon—just in case.

Your Turn: What are your memories of learning to drive—or of helping someone else learn to drive?






31 thoughts on “Jesus, Take the Wheel! My Son is Driving!

  1. This is the funniest post, and so true. I thought I was calm and reasonable—until I tried to teach my daughter to drive some years ago. Hand me a blindfold and a tall glass a chardonnay. Thanks for the laughs!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Funny! Had me laughing as I passed this phase a while ago and wished I could have shared the “come to Jesus moments”. My oldest never likes really having hard things to do…I had a Dodge truck a 5 speed so more than just gas and brake. I told both my sons there was not going to be any boy in my house who could not drive a stick, plus if they went anywhere else in the world they would be able to drive anything. Well… he didn’t think that was reason enough and I had the “F” bomb thrown at me several times and the words “I can’t” also came out when he killed the truck at stop signs. Funny, he did finally get his license and now works for a rental car company showing people all the features of all the cars they rent, including 5 speeds! Good job MOM!!!
    The younger one was easier to teach the stick shift to but one day we were on the dirt country roads and he ran over the top of a rabbit that committed suicide under the front tire. I will never forget the look on his face as he looked at me and asked if he actually hit it. YUP! Should we go back and see if it is ok? NOPE! Dumb rabbit out of the gene pool. He still talks about it to this day. Thanks for the post that made me laugh and it does get better, just wait until they are out with their friends driving…many sleepless nights are coming your way…hehehe

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to learn on a stick shift and it was really hard, but I did have to pay attention,which is a good lesson to learn as a new driver. I couldn’t even have the radio on and there was no air conditioning in the car. As a result, I had 0 distractions, but I was quite cranky after my round-trip commute, which was long because I lived in the country. It sounds like your children are great drivers as a result of your instruction–cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you really want to know- I was an Army brat and was able to get my license through the military system for civilians in Germany in 1981 for a fee of $5. My mom, who had an automatic shift car gave me just one lesson, because she couldn’t handle more. I went to take the written test without studying, thinking I could then brush up on the deficiencies… I passed. So I walked into our house that evening, telling my mom that we needed to be there the next day for the driving test with HER CAR! She almost had a stroke. But we got there and a young soldier was the driver tester. The car being an automatic made it so much easier, and going through a neighorhood with 15 mile speed restrictions was a blessing, because I had plenty of time to figure out the navigation.
    At the end of the test, when we got back to the parking lot where we had started, the tester wanted me to parallel park, but I was so happy to be back, I just jumped out of the car. I guess he just shrugged it off – we must have been about the same age. 2 weeks later, when I started my job and had to drive a Ford econoline to get around, I realized how many things I didn’t know (yet). But I did OK and the only accident I ever had was (ironically) one with a car I had borrowed from my mom about 15 years later in which I totaled not only her car, but also a medium sized Mercedes. I was doing less than 35 mph. She never loaned me a car again 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow! I did not have such luck in terms of passing my driving test. I passed the written part and the parking part right away, but the actual driving took me 3 times. My test proctor for the driving portion was not nice at all and she had to test me all three times that poor, poor woman!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Life isn’t fair. I was afraid to take the test and procrastinated until I had a job offer that I absolutely wanted. I was 24. The rest is history 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I”m so not ready to even think about this. And my boys will go though it 18 months apart… eek! good luck dealing with this learning curve

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I dont like driving, but I had to, for many years, when my sons were children. So, when they were 18, I immediately helped them to lear driving, and they were finally the ones who brought me

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember I had the smallest boxiest car ever, and when I was learning to drive my dad took me to an old airfield to practice. He gripped the safety handle so tight because I took a corner too fast. Apparently it felt like the car was going to roll over! (Not that I noticed! ^^”) I had a professional instructor after that, and it took me 5 times to pass my test because I was a bundle of nerves and nothing sunk in!
    I hope Alex is enjoying the experience 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yeah, my niece just got her drivers license. Lots of anxiety from her mom, dad, and uncle. I remember crashing my dad’s car in the driveway and taking out the family friend’s car (Mr. Zeier would come out and watch me leave for the next ten years just to make sure there was no repeat). It’s funny how your perspective changes — at 16 I couldn’t wait to drive. At 51 I’m like “They let them drive at 16? What dumbass thought that was a good idea?”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, no! At 16, I didn’t want to drive. I was the opposite of all of my friends–I was just too scared. I’m actually glad that Alex wants to drive, but sitting in the car with him is scary–I’m leaving that task to Nate:)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. well at our house, being 1 of 6, my parents never taught any of us to drive a car. I learned to drive a car pretty much by myself out of necessity. My granddaughter wants me to teach her how to drive but its way too terrifying! I’m afraid my car might get hurt! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you were able to have a good laugh! Alex has passed the written portion and will take the driving portion–probably in February–and that’s when he can drive on his own without a parent in the car with him–and I’ll be terrified, but happy at the same time:)


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