After 24 years in the trenches, I’d like to think that I’ve mastered many of the hurdles of parenting. Four kids have been shepherded through almost all their rites of passage: kindergarten, eighth-grade graduation, and first dates.
There’s only one that’s given me pause: teaching them to drive.
The first time I hit the road with a student driver was back in 2005. I remember it vividly, because it was the first time I actively contemplated my own death.
It’s not that my eldest daughter was a bad driving student, because she was determined and able, and so when we were piling into the car one spring morning I was inclined to listen when she begged to be allowed to get behind the wheel, armed as she was with a nice, new shiny permit.
I hadn’t driven with her yet, but her father said nothing but good things about her serious approach and confident preparation. She had a reputation for being capable, and was nothing if not persuasive.
I said yes. What could go wrong?
And that’s when I hit my own rite of passage and learned an important lesson: never, ever, ever let your first session with a new driver fall during morning rush hour traffic on the Maricopa out of Ahwatukee, because you will then know the meaning of the word “powerless.”
As she eased the van down into the ramp onto the freeway and started the intricate Stop-and-Go Tango of trying to edge over to the carpool lane through the thicket of commuter traffic, I realized that there was no way out. Like a terrified 10-year-old on the Cyclone roller coaster, I was stuck until this ride came to an end and the car pulled into the parking lot and I disembarked, legs a-tremble and stomach a-churning.
I knew better than to give voice to my fear, lest I frighten her. But now there’s a mysterious hollow in the floorboards on the passenger side, almost as if someone was trying to jam their foot right through it.
Of course she did beautifully, and was already destined to be a fine driver. I was the one destined to be a lousy driving instructor.
This, people, is why I drink. It’s also why I call a driving school, but I am still not liberated from the eager learner, hand outstretched for the keys, as they need to accumulate training hours behind the wheel.
Fast forward eight years and I’m still jamming the imaginary brake pedal to the floor mat with my third driver. I know that Sam is cautious. I know that Sam is attentive. I also know that Sam has the family’s highest scores on cartoon video games that value reckless driving and poor aim and in hindsight were not my best entertainment purchasing decision.
This is the worst. What I want to be is huddled in the backseat with my eyes closed, but the law of the land says that I must be next to the driver with no chance to hide.
So please be careful out there. I’m not worried about you and Sam so much, what with all the caution and all. The one in the front passenger seat clutching a rosary?
She’s the one to watch.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.