Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Teaching Melissa to Drive

"Mom, will you help me study for my driver's ed test?" pleaded my 16-year old daughter Melissa.

I admit, I tried to pretend I didn't hear her request.

Why, you ask?

Shouldn't I be a dutiful mother and help my child study?


I had just plopped my weary bones onto the couch in the family room where my husband Bob had been enjoying his mandatory "Sunday Evening Sports TV Viewing".

Switch to hockey.
Switch back to football.
And so on.....

I had recently returned from food shopping, put away the groceries, poured myself a diet coke, and filled a bowl with pretzels.  Yes! The woman who never sits still might actually (it's so hard to even say the word) RELAX!

Alas, t'was not meant to be.  My baby needed me. Football and hockey and yes, even Bob, would have to wait.

We settled in at the kitchen table where Melissa handed me a sheet of paper with answers to common sense driving questions scribbled across the page.

Q. What does the fuel gauge measure?
A. Duh.

Q. What does the steering wheel do?
A. Duh.

Q. What does the flux capaciter do?
A. Send Michael J. Fox back to 1956 (Just kidding, that question really wasn't on her test)

After 30 minutes of mindless back and forth, it suddenly occurred to me that a real life scenario would do a much better job of reinforcing the rules of the road.

So, for the first time in my life, I let my daughter, my sweet little girl, my baby.....GET BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A CAR!!!

Before the local law enforcement officers arrest me for allowing a cherub to drive a car without a permit, rest assured that we did nothing more than sit in the driveway with the motor running.

Yes, that's right. I actually had Melissa put the key in the ignition. And, as the engine roared to life, she shuddered with equal parts anticipation and equal parts terror!

After she marveled at the ability to adjust the seat and steering wheel to her liking, I pointed out the mundane aspects of our automobile.

Speedometer - check

Odometer - check

Fuel gauge - check

Rear view mirror - check

Brake - check


She stepped on the accelerator so hard, had the car not been in "Park", it would have crashed through the garage, the living room, the family room, the bathroom, the kitchen, our neighbor's house...etc.

Unable to hide her surprise, Melissa turned to me and gasped, "I DIDN'T EXPECT IT TO DO THAT!  (followed by a few choice expletives)

My response?

I simply threw my head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.

As we walked back into the house she mumbled in fear about never, ever getting behind the wheel again, a sentiment that's just fine with me, because 16 is simply way too young to operate such a complex piece of machinery.

My, how I have changed.

For years I counted down the days until the calendar turned to April 22, 1981.  For on that day, I would turn 16.  Then I could finally experience the thrill of getting into the driver's seat, turning the key in the ignition, and taking off to anywhere I wanted to go!  No more walking or riding a bike for me....I'd be a legal, licensed driver!!

Until I reached that fateful birthday, "pretend" driving would have to suffice.  As a young school girl, my friends and I would climb behind the wheel of my mother's "no longer functioning" 1969 Rambler. I am sure, at some point in time, my mother actually drove the Rambler. However, for as long as I can remember, the car sat idle, defunct, parked outside of our house, a perfect vehicle to propel young imaginations to a future where, as licensed drivers, we could travel to the supermarket, the bank, the drug store and all sorts of "exotic" locations frequented by our hum drum parents.

The 1969 Rambler

Finally, the day came for me to take my driver's test, and I am embarrassed to say........I failed.  To this day, I blame my ineptitude on my mother, who had the nerve to start an argument with me on the way to the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Now that I am the mother of a 16-year old, I can say with much certainty that the fight was most likely started by my 16-year old self, not my mom.)

A few weeks later, I tried again, with dad as my escort to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  This time, I am happy to say.......I PASSED!  I could now, finally fulfill my life-long ambition to drive a car!

The envy of all of my "not yet 16" friends, I couldn't wait to hit the road.  My parents purchased a huge, ugly, brown, boat-sized vehicle that I happily navigated throughout the streets of my neighborhood. The front seat, wide enough for a basketball player to sleep comfortably, stretched straight across, without any pesky gear shifts or cup holders separating the driver's side from the passenger's.  Every weekend I trekked the short distance to my "not yet 16" friend Wendy's house. She'd hop into the car I had affectionately named "Betsy Boat" and slid all the way over until she was practically sitting on top of me. Then I let her take the wheel of the car, while I controlled the brake and accelerator, and around the town we drove!

How we were never arrested, I'll never know.

Wendy and me

Today, Wendy and I are both moms to 16-year olds. Will our kids try the same type of "illegal" shenanigans with their friends?  We'll probably never know.

What's more, as moms we now have to worry about technology that didn't exist during the dinosaur era when we learned to operate a vehicle.

Will our kids reach for their phone while cruising down the highway?

Will our kids have the patience to wait to respond to the familiar ding of an incoming text until they are safely out of the car?


I could forbid Melissa to drive until she's 30, but I know that her urge to get behind the wheel will continue to grow stronger until I'll be forced to relent.

I'm sure, in a few months or so, after I finally get used to the idea that I gave birth to a child who can drive, I'll appreciate her willingness to run out for a gallon of milk.  But for now, I am, quite simply, just not ready to let her become a licensed driver.....because that also means I'll have to try to let her go.

And I can't.

Oh well, maybe she'll fail driver's ed.  One can only hope!

I love getting feedback. If you like my stories, please tell me in the comments section below!


  1. Boy, can I relate! Juli is getting ready to start driver's ed and some of her friends have their licenses already and are picking her up, driving to the house, etc. I'm a nervous wreck! Eeek!

    1. Cindy, do you have rules in effect when your girls get in the car with one of their friends?

  2. I don't even want to think about this!!! Tom turns 15 in December so this milestone is coming up in my own life!! Yikes!!!!

    I totally know how Melissa feels, I did that when I first started to learn and I never, ever did it again until I was 35. I hope she does get behind the wheel again, eventually!! xo

    1. Hi Kathy - what is the driving age in NY. In NJ it is 17 so I have at least until next summer to worry!

  3. I don't believe I am capable of thinking nine years ahead. I am excited for her, because she is lightyears ahead and already talking about driving (what????) and like you said, grabbing a carton of milk is always helpful. But malls and movies and friends? My heart beat accelerates a bit.

    I'm with you on this. All the best with what's to come. I am sure everything will be okay :-)

    1. I'm lucky that she is a responsible person, but I'll still worry!

  4. My baby boy turns 15 this year, so I have a little over a year to get my head into it. I admit, I am terrified to let him drive, or think about driving. He is too young. Too little. Just a baby.

    Okay, enough with my dramatics.

  5. Oh man, I dread the day when my baby girl turns 16!! My son is already there, unfortunately!! Yikes!!! Good luck...

    1. So you have some experience with driving already, right! Care to share any words of wisdom?

  6. I don't look forward to teaching my kids to drive. They have to be 18 here before it is legal to drive. I'll most probably pack them off to driving school :)

  7. Your post took me down memory lane with my own learning to drive experience. My dad taught me and I now want to post about THAT experience. Suddenly I am seeing how quickly it will be my turn to teach my child. He's 3. I'm sure that time will fly by!