I have fantasized (wildly) about my kids being able to drive since they were in diapers – but no more than during the first few years of tween- and teen-dom, when I existed mainly to chauffeur them. Those are the years when their social events and extracurricular activities see a dramatic increase, but they’re still dependent on parents to transfer them to said events and activities. It’s a constant parade of carpools to practices and games and “Mom, can you take me to Aidan’s/Emma’s/the mall/the movies?” and “Mom, can you give Aidan/Emma a ride home from the mall/the movies?” and “Mom, can you pick me up from Aidan’s/Emma’s at 10 p.m. which is long after you’ve gotten your pajamas on and are hoping to be in bed?”
Okay, I added that last part on … but if you know, you know.
Like most parents who grossly underestimated the amount of driving they’d be doing on their kids’ behalf, I dreamed of the day that I could just hand them the keys and usher them out the door. Oh, for the sweet convenience of having another driver to make a grocery store run or shuttle a sibling to practice! I longed to be able to reclaim some of the hours of my week spent behind the wheel (with pubescent passengers complaining about my musical selections, adding insult to injury).
But you know how, when your kids are in diapers, you can’t wait for them to be potty-trained? You get this idea that it’s like, boom, once they learn to use the toilet you’ll never have to change a diaper again and those days are all behind you. It never occurs to you — not once — that even when they’re potty trained, they still won’t have adult-level toileting habits. Sure, they may use the pooper sort of independently, but then there are wiping issues … and issues with getting buttons and snaps undone in time (and redone by themselves) … and issues with wanting to use EVERY. SINGLE. PUBLIC. TOILET within a 20-mile radius every time you leave the house (which comes with its own issues — namely, how they want to put their hands all over every germ-infested surface while they’re in there). And you realize that, yeah, your kid might technically be “potty trained”, but it brings far less independence than you’d hoped.
I’m finding out that it’s the same with driving. Just because my kids are driving age doesn’t mean they’re magically road-ready and able to take a load off my plate. Logically I knew that, of course; I was just so focused on the glorious end result (independent drivers!!) that I kind of … glossed over the hard part.
Currently, I have two that are learning at the same time: my oldest, who wasn’t interested in driving whatsoever until after he turned 17, and my second-oldest, who is 15 and has literally been counting down the days until he can get his permit. And in this process, I’ve been learning some things about the agonizing process of teaching teenagers to drive.
Even if You Don’t Have Anxiety, You Have Anxiety
There is just something inherently terrifying about being in the passenger seat of a 3,000-pound vehicle steered by a kid who doesn’t even aim at the toilet properly when he pees. They brake too hard, accelerate at the wrong speed, take corners like a NASCAR driver, narrowly miss scraping other cars as they pull out of parking space. If you have even the slightest need to be in control, toss it out the window along with your low blood pressure — because you are the hapless, helpless passenger who is at the mercy of a novice driver … and their rookie mistakes.
(PSA: They literally sell “new driver” magnets that you can put on your car. Getcha some.)
There Are No Brakes on the Passenger Side
You already knew that, right? Sure you did. Regardless, you will find yourself mashing down on an invisible brake pedal like you’re trying to slow the vehicle through willpower alone. It’s involuntary, like bouncing while you’re holding a baby or opening your mouth while you put on mascara.
Your Expertise Is Completely Unwelcome, and in Fact, Insulting
I’ve been driving for over 27 years and have never been pulled over for speeding or gotten into an accident (knock on wood). So you’d think my children would welcome my guidance while they’re behind the wheel — but no. Even the most gentle of suggestions is met with hostility, like I’ve proposed that they should forgo Christmas rather than go easy on the gas pedal. And I’ve learned that watching your tone doesn’t matter; whether you shriek a command (“LOOK OUT FOR THE CURB!!!”) or calmly say, “Hey bud, try easing into that acceleration next time,” they’re gonna be pissed. Don’t even try to be helpful unless they specifically ask, because they are not here for it — and, in true teenage fashion, will act like you know nothing despite your years of experience.
… And Everything You Say is “Yelling”
No matter how even, steady, and low you try to keep your voice, they will always accuse you of shouting. “I can’t concentrate when you’re over there yelling at me!” they’ll huff, as though Gordon Ramsay is berating their driving skills from the passenger seat.
Despite All This, They Will Pester You Relentlessly to Practice
During each driving lesson, they may act like they’d rather have Satan himself doling out instructions — but nevertheless, they’ll want to do it every chance they get. And you can put them off with excuses all you want, but eventually you know you’re gonna have to do it again. And again. And again. Thankfully, though …
There Are People Who Choose to Do This for a Living … on Purpose
Many schools offer driver’s ed classes. And even if they don’t, there are driving schools and driving instructors just … out there, ready and willing to get in the car with inexperienced teen drivers every single day. I absolutely cannot imagine the nerves of steel it would take to subject yourself to this day in and day out, but my point is: help is out there, and if it’s a feasible option for you, USE IT. Trust me, it will save your ever-loving sanity, because the fewer times you must subject yourself to the stress of white-knuckling it through a ride with your driver-in-training, the better.
There’s Something Bittersweet About the End Result
But throughout the arguing, the eye-rolling, and the teeth-gnashing stress, I have been keenly aware of something much bigger: what a milestone this is, and how fast time is flying by. Wasn’t I just buckling them into carseats? Now I’m the one buckling in and hoping they’ll keep me safe — and it all happened in the blink of an eye. And each mile driven is a mile closer to the day they’ll pull out of the driveway for the last time as they head into adulthood … sending my heart on the road right alongside them.