Shifting Gears

My son will be 16 this year. Normally, I wouldn’t tell you this because I am very private about my children’s identities online, but this time, it’s important for you to understand so I’m going to throw caution to the wind here.

Last week, he went in to take the test to get his learner’s permit. I was at the salon having my hair done at the time, but thankfully for my husband, the DMV was just the next shopping center over, so he took the kid in and the kid passed the test to get his permit on the first run through. At the time, I was so proud. I’d had to take the written test twice before I got my permit, but not my kid. He had studied, he was prepared. So I sent out a text message to everyone in my family and announced his joyous news. Driving is a rite of passage for us after all.

The men in my family have been gearheads for as long as I can recall, in fact, I cannot identify a single generation of my family that existed after cars did in which someone in my family didn’t know how to fix them. My grandfather passed his knowledge down to his sons and my Dad learned a lot from my uncle, who passed away before I was born. My dad tried to pass this knowledge on to me. I can change the oil and filters on a ’79 Mercury Grand Marquis, which means I could probably figure it out on other vehicles if I made the effort, but I kind of like my acrylic nails.

Still, in spite of all of this, the family love of cars has filled my life. I have always loved my cars and taken good care of them. My MINI has only reaffirmed that love with every day that passes. As a result of all this, I was very excited to teach my son how to drive a car and I had to spread the word to everyone.

When my dad got the news that his grandson had his learner’s permit, there was probably a shriek of joy somewhere in the midwestern US that was heard from Pennsylvania to Montana. It was immediately followed by the text message: “Roll up the sidewalks! Hide your babies and tell the old ladies to stay home! WOOHOO!”

My mother immediately called me to ask me to let her know when she should tell her friends to stay indoors and advised me to alert the national guard. My brother merely said, “About time.” My best friend, who has watched my children grown up said, “I remember walking him to kindergarten. He’s my baby too… and he’s not allowed to drive darnit!”

It was a great day and everyone celebrated my son’s achievement.

Everyone, except my son.

Sure he had a smile on his face, but his smile seemed to hide something behind it. The kid seemed truly and profoundly scared of the idea that he would soon be operating a 2400 pound vehicle in which he could plow over small children and dogs if he did not take great care.

A few days later, we were in the car driving to an appointment and I gave my son the lecture that I recall my dad giving me about driving. I told him about how you should treat the pedals gently and pretend like there was an egg under each one. We talked about the road signs and I was satisfied that he understood the rules of the road, but when we got back to his car and it came time to get behind the wheel of it, something in his face made me balk.

It was my fault, of course. I was so excited about him driving and the prospect of him gaining independence that I didn’t realize that I had overwhelmed the kid with more information about driving than I had ever shared with him previously. He looked like I had just dropped an anvil on his toe.

As the week wore on, it became apparent to me that I was ill-prepared to teach my son how to drive. I was ready for him to do it, I was excited about it, but actually letting him get behind the wheel was another matter entirely and in the end, I had to call upon my wonderful husband who said, “I’ll handle it!” with a super hero like glint shining off his teeth as he grabbed the keys.

I ran up to my bedroom and looked out the window that overlooks my driveway and watched in terror as my son sat behind the wheel of my old Corolla. I had hung onto the car for this purpose, it was why I didn’t sell it when I bought my MINI and yet, some part of me was still terrified. My hands gripped the sill as I looked and saw my husband calmly explaining what to do and pointing out all the controls to our son.

And then the moment happened. I heard the engine start. I saw the car move smoothly backwards down the driveway. There was a little hiccup backing out into the street because he’d misjudged the distance, and then he was away.

My son. My baby… was driving a car.

I was still terrified of course and I called my mother immediately but she said, “You know, I remember the first time I got into a car with you.”, and I could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke. Then she said, “It was the last time too.”

I nodded because she was absolutely right. She didn’t get into a car with me behind the wheel again until almost a decade later. I had scared the crap out of her because when I was learning, I was a nightmare. I was so terrified of backing up and turning left and Mom didn’t understand why. We made a horrible team when it came to learning to drive, but my dad had all the patience in the world for me and between him and my grandfather, I learned and slowly learned to love being behind the wheel.

So it came as no surprise that when my husband and my son got back from their first adventure on the road, my son had a real smile on his face that spread from ear to ear. He said, “Mom, that was fun! Can I drive again today? I want to drive with you now!”

I smiled back and said, “We’ll see, but I promise I won’t make you wait ten years.”