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?”
–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?