Thursday, August 20, 2009

Driving Lessons

I’m teaching my last child to drive. It’s going remarkably well. I hardly ever gasp or shriek or slam my foot down on that imaginary brake on the passenger side. And we haven’t had a single fight over any of it. I can’t decide if he’s really that much better than his older siblings were or if I’ve mellowed over the years.

I think my mother mellowed with each of us. By the time my brother was learning to drive, she habitually slept in the passenger seat. I remember her telling me that she’d read somewhere that drunk people are so relaxed that they fare better in accidents than sober people. Since she doesn’t drink, she thought sleeping would be the next best protection.

I remember learning to drive a stick shift as a teenager. Both my mother and my sister tried to teach me.

Big sigh, then “Just take your foot off the clutch and step on the gas,” they repeatedly instructed me with much exasperation.

What happens when you “just take your foot off the clutch and step on the gas?” A big lurching jerk and then you stall. People honk at you and drive around your car. And just try starting out in first gear like this on a hill, terrified, knowing that you’re going to roll backward right into that very impatient guy who’s behind you, honking like a madman.

My mother and my sister gave up. One Sunday afternoon, my father took me to the empty K-Mart parking lot.

“Now,” he said, “just slowly ease up on the clutch until you start to feel a little tug.”

I slowly eased up, and I felt the little tug.

“When you feel the tug, gently start pressing the gas pedal and at the same time continue to ease up on the clutch.”

The car very smoothly began to creep forward. Success!

We have a little pickup truck with a standard transmission. I’ve taught my kids to drive it using my father’s teaching method, only we go over to the church parking lot on a weekday instead of K-Mart on a Sunday.

One difference I’ve noticed between my older kids and Joel is that he stays in the middle of the lane that he’s driving in. All the other kids had an irrational fear of the middle of the road. They stayed way to the right. It was like they wanted to take out everything parked along the right hand side. I guess having cars coming toward them in the other lane could have been a little daunting, but we live in Utah - home of the widest streets in America. It’s not like the cars coming toward them are really even that close.

My mother always comments on the wide streets when she comes out to visit:

“Brigham Young ordered the settlers to make the streets wide enough for him to turn his wagon around in.” I don’t know how she knows this. I’ve lived here for twenty-eight years and I’ve never heard anyone else say this.

In fact, they’re so wide that on most of the main roads, there’s room for a center lane, a kind of no man’s lane, for making left turns. We didn’t have these in Massachusetts – home of the narrowest streets in America - where I learned to drive. We had a rational fear of the middle of the road.

One time I was driving in Utah with a passenger visiting from New England. I pulled into the center turn lane to make a left turn.

“What are you doing?!” he shrieked as another car coming from the opposite direction also pulled into the turn lane. “Is this some kind of lane for playing chicken?”

It’s probably time to get Joel out and teach him to parallel park, a very important skill for a driver to master. Especially in our family. My mother once called off an engagement because the guy couldn’t parallel park. I’d hate for Joel to find himself dumped someday because he lacked this skill. In fact, I’d better make sure the other kids are proficient. And make sure my daughter knows what to look for in a husband.

I can just hear my mother now, when Carolyn someday announces her engagement:

“But does she know if he can parallel park?”

So have I mellowed or is Joel a better driver than the other kids? I think it’s a little of both. I’m a much calmer parent these days, with only one child under the age of eighteen. That makes a big difference. And I think he is naturally a pretty good driver. After all, he was in the car for most of their driving lessons. He should be better.

Now, as long as they don’t find out I let him have the radio on when he’s driving… Boy, I really have mellowed!


  1. Dave drove me around Northern Viginia today. Not too scary.

  2. Probably because you were asleep.

  3. I just taught my last child to drive as well. I'm pretty sure he would say I am not as calm as you Melinda :)

  4. A couple of my kids have recently mentioned a piece of driving advice my mother has occasionally given them over the years: Never back up more than you have to.

  5. Just let Dave drive the Mustang, with the top down and the radio blaring, through the neighborhood. Don't tell the girls. Beth and Mary Kate had each been driving for a couple of years before we let them drive it. Emma never has... I figure John'll probably skip the minivan and go straight to stick.