Through the looking glass: Driving lessons

Sweater, check. Registration and insurance documents, check. License, check. Ativan, check. “OK, Abby. I’m ready to go driving with you! Are you sure you don’t want Dad to go?”

I’m sure at some point it gets easier and I won’t need physiotherapy for my cramping fingers from white knuckling the entire time. It’s not that Abby isn’t a good driver, in fact, quite the opposite. And I can’t even say that I don’t know what she’s thinking and whether she sees the truck ready to turn into her lane; she talks constantly. She has no inner voice, kind of like driving with narration. “OK, I see the stop sign. Slowing down. Not too fast. Signal. Almost there. And…. stop. Looking left, then right, left again. Proceeding slowly. No psycho’s. Good to go.” Pleased with her performance she moves her head slightly to the music as she wails her own version of the song. I smile. Not because my Ativan has kicked in, but because I’m so grateful to be able to drive with my teenage daughter without resisting the urge to throw up. I think back to a time when it wasn’t so calm and peaceful. In fact, gut-wrenching terror comes to mind.

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“Josh, turn the wheel! Josh! Didn’t you see that stop sign?! AUGH!! SLOW DOWN!” Not to lend to the stereotype of girls versus boys in driving, but rather the major part of my panic with Josh was that he drove like I did. For the few years my father required Ativan to endure my feeble attempt at driving, I’m amazed we all survived. Looking back I can see that what I thought was great driving was a painful attempt at just keeping the vehicle on the road.

I remember forcing my husband into the front seat one day when Josh was driving. A brand new driver, he was so proud. And yet, mildly terrified.  I’m sure watching his parents ‘rock, paper, scissors’ outside the vehicle to determine who had to sit up front was a huge boost for his confidence! I laughed in victory and climbed behind him so I wouldn’t be distracted by his lack of focus. I opened my book and stared determinedly at the page. I didn’t read a word. Dion very calmly voiced corrections when required, but otherwise allowed Josh to muddle through on his own. I coped, kinda… until we came to a curve and a bridge. Dion quietly suggested turning the wheel a little more. Josh did not comply. Dion quietly suggested again that he may want to turn the wheel a little more. No compliance. The rumble strips voiced their discontent. No compliance. On the verge of tearing the pages out of my book, sweat beading down my forehead, I decided it was time to speak a little more firmly.


He complied. The vehicle was deathly quiet for the remainder of the ride. No music. No talking. No jolly car-ride games. Mom just had a psychotic break.

I believe that driver training should be mandatory. By someone else. I believe that this wantonly reckless ritual of throwing a child, (and let’s be honest, at 14 they are very much a child) at the controls of a high moving missile is sadly outdated and tragically wrong. Especially when that missile is mine! Having said that, I paid for driver training for Josh. Within the first week of obtaining his license he ditched the vehicle. Twice. Within the first year he’d written off two vehicles. He is now enjoying public transport. We are enjoying premium insurance. Very expensive premium insurance. So maybe the answer isn’t the training, it’s quite simply a matter of age. Or maybe some people just shouldn’t drive. Ever.

Is this what mellows people? I watch my parents smile and tell me to relax over things I seem to recall they were not so relaxed about! I’m pretty sure Mom didn’t smile and say “I’m sure you did your best” when I brought home 60s on a report card. Maybe it’s just a life process. When I was pregnant with Josh I ate all the right things at all the right times. I ate only natural foods and when he was born I made all his baby food and refused to give him anything with preservatives, sugar or caffeine. By the time Sarah, our 4th child, came along… well, I have pictures of her before she could walk, sitting blissfully with her chubby little legs tucked around a slushie cup about as big as she was. I’m sure it’s purely coincidence that he’s 6’4” and she’s… well, she’s not going to have to worry about being too tall in heels.

Josh enjoyed a professional photography shoot at six months old. No really! He reveled in it! Grinned from ear to ear! I should have seen acting school in his future right then. Abby had a Walmart shoot. Maggie got a luxury shoot with my own camera on her bed! Sarah’s was an after thought with a friend’s camera. It’s sad, I know.

I see the Valentines that come home with the kids from their friends. I shuffle through them declaring the number of children who correspond with each display of artistic talent and fortitude. “Only child. Middle child. Um… the family pet?” When Josh did Valentines I would sit with him and guide his hand. Suggesting, helping, and ultimately working alone late into the night to finish the complexly clever valentines for his class the next day. Sarah gets to pick her Valentines off the shelf at Walmart. I really don’t even pay attention to whether the names are spelled right.

Josh’s baby book is lovingly filled out with quotes, stories and photos. Sarah has a baby book… somewhere. I suspect the decline in my obnoxiously overbearing maternal behaviour has less to do with my age and more to do with the fact that Josh was a very typical boy. By the time he got moving, there was quite literally not enough time or caffeine to allow for anything else. He was a very exhausting young lad. We visited the local hospital on a regular basis. Stitches, broken bones, concussions. Is it sad that he could read an X-ray by the time he was ten? Thinking I would struggle more with mood swings and deeply emotional girls I prayed for boys. Fortunately the universe tempered my lack of judgment and having any real clue what I was in for by handing me three girls after Josh. As the oldest and only boy, he paved the way for the girls. He broke the rules, pushed the boundaries and demanded solid and indisputable reasons for every decision we made. By the time the girls got to those points they were met with exhaustion and a very real lack of cognitive reasoning, allowing them to do more than ever should have been allowed. The girls didn’t wait until I was watching TV to ask a question, they waited until I’d had an hour-long debate with Josh! So Josh, when you come home from college and see your sisters doing things you weren’t allowed to do, really you have no one to blame but yourself!

I can’t say that my oldest child is the sole cause of my phlegmatic demeanour; life in general is to blame for that. But, doesn’t that happen to most anyway? Wouldn’t it happen if you’d never raised a child? Is it because of all life throws at you? Or more a result of aging and losing the energy and drive you once had? Or maybe it’s a realization that no matter what you do, things will go the way they’re supposed to and you may as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Find me on twitter and let me know! I’m beginning to think that grandparents seem to enjoy their grandchildren more than their children not because of a devout sense of fulfillment in payback, or the ability and freedom to ‘give them back’ but more so that they are secure in the knowledge that despite our best efforts as parents our children will turn out alright. Whether they’re behind the wheel or sitting on a bus.

Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune.

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