"Second time's the charm," I said. And how do I know? Because she's the second Young Adult I've ushered through the process. I say Young Adult because the Boy didn't get his license until the summer after his freshman year at college. And the Smithie? Why, didn't she graduate? you're asking yourself. And didn't Julia mention something about grad school? Reader, I did. The Smithie made it through college and her master's(1) without obtaining her license. But it will soon be at hand! Now I, your expert in all things teen, collegiate and YA, will guide you, hapless middle-aged parent, through this process.
In fact, the steps to teaching your offspring to drive are the same as the famous Kübler-Ross stages of grief. Only backwards.
ACCEPTANCE. Accept the fact that despite paying somewhere between five and eight hundred dollars for driving school, you're the person who will actually teach your kid how to drive. If you're not yet in the teenage range, you may be thinking What the hell? I took driver's Ed in school! It was free! Ahahahahahahahaha. No. "Driver's Ed" was jettisoned, along with Home Ec (2) and mimeograph machines, in the 90s.
I don't know what we got for our $500 (x2!), but my kids came out having memorized the rules of the road but unable to execute most of them. (3) If anyone's going to teach your kid to brake when he sees red lights, or stay between the lines, or oh my God, stop, don't do that, don't ever do that! it's you.
DEPRESSION No Benadryl, Ativan or booze. This is for you, not your young driver.
BARGAINING This can take two forms. When the Smithie was first learning to drive, at 16, she was terrified of other cars. (4) We had to coax her into the vehicle, like a shy dog who suspects he's going to the vet's. Since she had to have 36 hours of driving under her belt to apply for a road test (5), the fact she didn't want to drive more than ten minutes at a time was a problem.
When she decided, at 23, that she needed to be a Real Grownup and get her license, things had changed. She wanted to drive everywhere. All the time. No matter the conditions. Which, since she started in late October, has included rain, heavy rain, torrential rain, snow, fog and snow fog. No thundersnow yet, thank God. If bargaining with your youth falls through, I suggest bargaining with God. Just get us through this rotary, Lord, and I'll never swear again. Which brings us to...
ANGER Hopefully, you'll keep your cool (6) but I can guarantee your young person won't. Take the gun out of the glovebox (7) because you're going to see road rage like you've never seen before. Your student will rant at drivers who don't use turn signals, the difficulty of green arrows, the stupidity of rotaries and the ridiculous confusion of four-way stops. Then there's the raging at you.
"Honey, you're accelerating at 45 miles and hour toward a red light."
"MOM! My FOOT is ON the BRAKE! You don't have to tell me EVERYTHING!"
Except when you don't say something that seems like a no-brainer, like, "Honey, you're missing your exit." (8) you'll get, "Oh my GOD, Mom, why didn't you TELL me?!? Jesus Christ!" (9)
DENIAL This is the stage you reach when the date for the road test arrives. Despite the fact that your young driver can't back into a parking space, still tries to turn left on green against oncoming traffic (10), veers into the breakdown lane when a truck passes by and seems constitutionally unable to obey the speed limit, you close your eyes and keep mumbling, "Of course he'll pass. Of course he'll pass." The road test examiner, who has not had time to become sick of being driven around by your hormonal teen, does not agree with you.
Oh, well. Back to stage one. "Sure, honey, let's go practice backing up. I'll stand in the parking lot in 18 degree weather and guide you into a spot for forty minutes." Remember, if you keep it long enough for them to get licensed, someday soon they can drive you to the old folks home.
(1) In a year and a half! She's such a hard worker. Are you hiring a children's librarian? Tweet me.
(2) They still teach cooking and balancing a budget, bit it's now called "Life Skills" or "Consumer Science." And I don't think you have to sew an apron to pass anymore, like in my high school. I cheated and had my mother sew mine. Do I really deserve to call myself a graduate?
(3) Admittedly, this may be because we live in a very rural area. It's hard to practice complicated lane changes in a place with only two stoplights.
(4) She said she could drive perfectly as long as no one else was on the road. I suggested this limited her future job prospects to night shifts in remote areas of Alaska.
(5) It's now 70 hours. Which means when Youngest starts the process this summer, I'll be ready for Social Security by the time she finishes.
(6) Especially if you ignore my advice about the Ativan.
(7) You might be tempted to use it.
(8) Exit had three large green signs warning it was coming up and was brightly lit with cars turning off it.
(9) Be prepared to hear your child swear. A lot. See ACCEPTANCE, above.
(10) How is that even a question? The cars are coming straight at you.