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Article: My Son is Learning to Drive

January 16, 2011

(Dedicated to my friends whose teens are drivers and pre-drivers)

Does anybody know where I can buy sirens, flashing lights and several STUDENT DRIVER signs for my car? My son is learning to drive, and I’d feel a lot less stressed if everybody else would just get off the road.

Whose idea was it that 15-year-olds should be allowed to drive, anyhow? Fifteen! Yes, kids who are still running over large flower beds with the riding lawn mower, claiming they don’t see them, are allowed to drive a five-ton hunk of steel 70 miles an hour in 10 lanes of traffic. They can barrel down city streets teeming with innocent children and little old ladies.

Insurance executives apparently have approved lower insurance rates for good students. I’m not going to tell them this until my son turns 25, but they’re nuts. Have they ever ridden with a studious type operating a motor vehicle? To begin with, our studious teen has never looked up in a vehicle since age five. He’s either had his head stuck in a book or in his laptop computer doing homework or writing the great American novel.

The hyper, non-studious teen, on the other hand, has been watching the road and helping his parents drive since age two, when he sat in his car seat yelling “Go, Daddy!” every time the light turned green.  He’s been driving in the driveway since grade school. And, confidentially, he’s been driving his friends’ cars on the highway for years.

The studious teen, forced to look at the road to become more road-aware while Parent is driving, says things like: “Why are you stopped right now?” When Parent says things like: “Because I’m turning left and there’s oncoming traffic,” he says things like: “Oh, but shouldn’t they stop and let you turn?”

The non-studious teen sees every car on the road and has reflexes like a racecar driver. In fact, he is a racecar driver after hours. The star student is so deep in thought about black holes or the license plate with letters that are the scientific notation for cadmium that he doesn’t see the black Cadillac in front of him. Nor does he see his exit.

There’s something too symbolic about a teen being in the driver’s seat while a parent sits petrified in the passenger seat. Who’s in control? When Parent says things in a gentle voice like: “Slow down or you’re going to hit that truck,” Teen says things like: “I’m driving.” I’ve even heard of parents saying polite things like: “Remember, I own the car keys,” to which Teen allegedly responds: “Remember I have friends who have wheels.”

Teens who’ve had a proximity-to-parent-induced hearing disorder for years are suddenly supposed to hear their parents say things like: “Slow down!”  “SloooOOooooow!”  “Slow-slow-SLOW!”

Teens are supposed to differentiate sounds after the word “Don’t,”as in: Don’t (drink/build a taco/put on pantyhose/apply mascara/talk on your cell phone—I don’t care how hot the caller is) while driving–and I don’t care who does it safely every day!

Frankly my son (who wants everyone to know he does not wear pantyhose or mascara) sounds like a parent himself when I’m driving these days, with comments like: “How fast are you going… and what’s the speed limit here?”  “Have you always driven like this and I just didn’t know any better and trusted you, or are you just tired or what?”  One day my son barked at me when my lane ended and I had to budge in front of a semi.  “Don’t you know those short white lines mean your lane is ending?” he demanded.  Well, no, I thought the line-painting truck malfunctioned–we didn’t have ANY lines where I learned to drive.

I learned to drive in rural Kentucky, where we had to pretend there were lines on the road, stoplights and cars to parallel park behind for our driver’s test. My husband, on the other hand, learned to drive in downtown Minneapolis. Twice I’ve postponed Son’s behind-the-wheel Lesson 3—which involves downtown Minneapolis–because I say Son needs 20 more years of practice on country roads and in parking lots first. My husband says the driving instructor has a brake and can grab the wheel—again–at any time.

It’s probably best not to mention that your child is taking driving lessons. Because just as they did when you were pregnant or had an impacted wisdom tooth, your friends will share their horror stories and their sister-in-law’s cousin’s horror stories. I thought a t-bone was a steak until so many friends described teens’ cars getting t-boned or t-boning other cars on a regular basis. I did not know so many teens flipped cars end over end or rolled three times before miraculously crawling out alive. And I especially did not know you could get cell phone reception to call home after flipping your car three times and landing in a ravine, where you were hanging upside down by your seatbelt.

We haven’t had any formal family discussions yet about purchasing the “teen car” -– the one that can handle the three rollovers and the ravine trick. But the discussion could get interesting, considering family history. My husband got his first car at 16–a V8 convertible with a four-barrel, meant for hauling high school girls. I got my first car at 21–a small brown Toyota with four doors, meant for hauling old ladies to Bible Study.

In the name of safety, some sneaky parents hide global positioning devices in their car so they know if their teen is drag racing during school hours in downtown Minneapolis. Some cheeky parents paste a bumper sticker on the car that reads: “How’s my teen’s driving?” followed by the parent’s phone number. I believe these measures are ridiculous and could lead to teen rebellion. The retired cop I’ve hired to trail my son agrees.

Seasoned parents assure me I’ll have great pride and a sense of relief the day I can hand the car keys to my son and say: “Would you run to the store and pick up a gallon of milk?” I suspect I’ll be saying: “Would you crawl to the store and pick up a gallon of Maalox? And if you’re not back in a half hour, I’m calling 911—for me.”

Copyright 2011

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Beverly Stamper permalink
    January 17, 2011 3:07 pm

    I loved this! I was the designated “driver’s ed” staff member of our family, teaching all three of my children to drive, so I readily identified with this essay! Just remember, HE’LL have the joy of teaching his children the joys of driving at age 15 or younger!

  2. January 19, 2011 2:20 pm

    Yikes — No wonder my dad wouldn’t let me drive. I got MY first car at 23 so I could drive to school. (I was student teaching)

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