Driving Lessons

An Instrument for Expressing Different Parenting Styles...who knew?

Not much points up how different my husband and I are than the way we approach teaching our kids a new skill. Take driving lessons for example.

My older daughter has just turned sixteen. She is, in many ways, her mother’s daughter, that is, methodical, studious, careful.  Neither of us can look at anything in life, from a stack of paper to a list of errands without shuffling, labeling, organizing and otherwise imposing our sense of order. What can I say? That’s the operating system that came installed with our brains.  Some people like, say, my husband, might label these tendencies control-freakish and overdone. I call them logical, sensible and efficient.

Consequently, when it came time for my daughter to learn to drive, I had a method in mind.

“First, let’s make sure you get a strong sense of how it feels to drive the van,” I say to her. “We’ll start in the big, open parking lot at the golf club next door, so you can get a feel for it, how the van responds to the weight of your foot on the accelerator and brake, how much pressure is needed to come to a graceful stop, to accelerate and decelerate at an appropriate rate, how the steering wheel responds when you turn. “

She nodded in agreement. No, really she did. This is a girl whose been making todo lists with checkboxes since she was six years old and who will text me if she is going to be five minutes late.

“We can take the time to make sure you are totally comfortable with the mechanics of driving,” I added,” before we throw you out into traffic where you have to be aware of so many things outside of the vehicle.”

“That sounds good, Mom.”

My husband, of course, sees the learning process differently.  When she asks him to drive her over to a friend’s house after dinner a few nights after she got her learner’s permit, he says, “why don’t you drive?”

“Um, because I don’t know how to yet?” she offers.

“We’ll just drive up to the corner,” he tells her. “Then we can stop and switch places.”

A sizzle of doubt runs up my spine, but I say nothing. I’m well familiar with his learn-by-doing methods.  “Throw them in over their head,” he’s often said of everyone from articling students to novice water skiers. He’d actually had our daughter driving in a park in Paris when she was thirteen years old, in a standard, no less.

Sure enough, when he returned that evening he reported that she had driven the entire way. It was Sunday night, mind you, so at least traffic was light.

“She needs to learn to slow down before going around a corner”, he said.

Of course she needs to learn to slow down before going around a corner, I thought. She’s never gone around a corner, you moron.  I said nothing, though, the effort of repressing my comments making my cheeks flare hot.

“And she got going pretty fast down Fittons Hill, too, but she slowed down.” All I could see was the busy intersection at the bottom of Fittons, where it crosses a busy road that leads to the highway out of town.  Now I break out in a sweat.

“Well,” I said. “We hadn’t planned on doing that kind of driving just yet.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You mothers,” he says, and crosses the kitchen to give me a squeeze.

Later, Lindsay fills me in on the experience from her point of view.

“I forgot to turn on the flicker before I got to the corner,” she said. “So Dad asked me where I’m going, and I said, ‘around the corner’.

She breaks out in a grin, “So he goes, ‘Are you going to share that with the world?’”

I had to smile at his diplomacy, not to mention his do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do duplicity. This advice to our daughter on turn signals coming from a guy who rarely signals anywhere, anytime.

“In New York nobody ever signals,” he often says. “And if they do, then everyone else speeds up and tries to cut them off.”

Of course, we don’t live in New York, but never mind.

“Also, I don’t know how to go around on curves,” she tells me. “Dad says that I’m supposed to slow down, and I was all, like, ‘What are you talking about’?” She shakes her head. “ The only thing I’ve ever driven before is a boat and a go-cart. You don’t slow down when you turn a boat or a go-cart, you speed up.”

She has a point.  She’s been taught to accelerate when driving our water ski boat. If she doesn’t, the force of the water against the hull slows down the boat and the skier sinks. Not ideal for the skier. And as for go-carts, hell, she learned to drive those with her NASCAR loving cousins. When you’re racing a cart, all bets are off and you catch an advantage everywhere you can, corners especially.

She replays the downhill scene for me, too, mimicking her dad’s response as they accelerated down the steep road

“Slow down, slow down, slow down!”

“I was nervous,” our daughter says now, “but I kept going. Dad said I could pull over anytime.”

Knowing full well that your pride and sense of rising to a challenge probably wouldn’t let you do that, I thought.  Then again, yes, she is a sensible soul, if she’d really felt out of control, well, I’d have to guess that she would have pulled over. This debate leaves me to wonder: how well do we know our children, really? How well do they know themselves? One can hope, anyway.

“Can we go back to the parking lot again?” she asks.

“You bet,” I say. “We’ll drive there for as long as you like, until you feel comfortable to head out on the road again.”

“Great,” she says.

And thankfully, my beloved husband has left town for a week, leaving me back in the driver’s seat, as it were, where the driving lessons are concerned.