Learning to Drive

Watching Alyssa learn to drive has made me thank God for the 100th time that I am not a teenager. I would never have gotten through high school in today’s world where every class is taught at a college level. I would’ve flat out flunked the SAT and would definitely not have been granted a driver’s license.

All I remember of learning to drive was taking the class one summer at my high school. Some sports coach or another taught it and I remember knocking over many, many orange cones in the parking lot before realizing he was going to pass me anyway just to be rid of me and my sub-par spacial awareness. In my memory there was no third party testing firm, no parental participation in 50 hours of road time. You took the class, they tested you right there and if you passed you were off to the Secretary of State.

Alyssa is a good driver. We have spent 50 hours plus in the car together and I am confident of her abilities. But that is not how the game works any more. She tried to explain the scam to me but I was not paying attention. She told me that ALL her friends failed the test the first time. That that was simply the way it worked. They collect your $50, spend 10 minutes watching you run over their trickily placed cones and offer you a retest later at a slightly reduced rate. Sure enough, that’s what happened.

You must pass the parking portion before you even get to show them you can drive. When Franny took Driver’s Ed. I swear we were given no home study materials and when we arrived at the testing site she was stunned to find the first test was backing into a driveway. Neither of us had any idea this impossible task was on the test and she failed with a capital F. She always claims I was a neglectful mother. I don’t own that across the board, but here it might be true. I ASSUMED that the nice folks at Sears Driving school would have covered all this. But no, not only did they not teach her, they didn’t even provide the little booklet showing what was going to be included on the test.

I vowed not to make the same mistakes with Alyssa. I got the booklet. I read it cover to cover. I dutifully marked it and logged her hours, sometimes nearly dragging her to the driver’s seat when she wasn’t keen because I knew we both needed her to drive ASAP because I teach every week night and can never get her anywhere she needs to be. We did fine on the driving, but I knew I was not the person to teach her to park. I have seen people get out their cell phones and shoot video of my parallel parking attempts. For all I know they’ve gone viral on YouTube such is the comedic value. I got the name of a private driving teacher and paid her a whopping $50 an hour to get Alyssa ready for the test. After the first hour Alyssa was completely confident, but I insisted on one more session for insurance.

We were up north over spring break and it struck me as the perfect time to get the test out of the way, thus paving the way for a Secretary of State visit on her exact birthday and the coveted (by her) Facebook post of her behind the wheel with her freshly minted license. Miraculously there was a testing firm with an opening at the exact moment we would be driving through Traverse City. The tester was female and friendly. I was so nervous I couldn’t watch. (It is a gift from God that I was not the parent of any team sport players as even in my cheerleading days watching people I care about do anything hard or competitive makes me sweaty-palmed and nauseous.)

You can get 6 demerits in parking and still pass. She adjusted her position one too many times in the parallel parking and missed by one point. The woman was kind and helpful, giving us a sheet to help with parking and offering a re-take later in the week. Alyssa cried all the way to the cottage and refused to return to that site (where I could now pay a mere $35 for a re-test) as it seemed jinxed to her. Ever the queen of “Let’s get this checked off the to-do list!!!” I booked with another company and drove 40 minutes to the site at the end of our vacation. This guy was gruff and old and didn’t even tell us how many demerits she got, just offered the reduced rate retest. The fact that he told her to reposition and then took off points when she did, made me once again wonder if there was a scam at work. OR maybe the poor kid just got my bad parking gene.

The elephant in this room is that Tom had a commercial driver’s license. He parked his giant work van in tiny postage stamp spaces with ease. He also had the patience of Job and he and Alyssa adored each other. In other words—THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HIS JOB!!!!  Alyssa’s biological dad tested cars in another life and also has the skill set (if not the personality) to get this done. But that ship has sailed and she would rather get driving instruction from Donald Trump. So……… I am now digging deep. I have taken my kind sister up on the offer to ask her ex-husband to step into the abyss and as a back-up (belt and suspenders seem like a good idea about now) I have reached out to a friend’s husband, a kind, patient, handy engineer who was foreman of the team of neighbors who rebuilt my porch. If he pulls off this equally monumental task he will only need to utter one word if questioned at the pearly gates about earthly good deeds—“Mary”.

So all this just brings home again our interdependence. There is nothing more frustrating (at least to me) than being incapable of helping one’s child do/learn/understand something. With Franny it was reading and math tutors who saved me along with a roster of mental health professionals. With Alyssa the list has thus far been pretty short—a tennis pro and a clarinet teacher. I am fine with hiring folks to do what I can’t, but when it comes to something like operating a car I feel like a big fat LOSER when I can’t help her. When I took a battery of aptitude tests at one point in my career I was off the chart low on the “if you take this piece of paper, fold it twice and make this cut, what will it look like when you unfold it” test. UGH! I could weep even now at how this makes my brain throb.

So thank you, Jim. Thank you, Rainer. Thank you anyone else who steps forward to help my kid get a driver’s license. I think on balance I have done ok as her mom so I am going to try to lose the guilt for my inadequacies here. We are all supposed to get two parents to help cover all the bases. I wish I could have given my kids that, but in that most annoying of all modern phrases—IT IS WHAT IT IS and we will all survive. Next test April 24. Send out some love and light that afternoon, ok?

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