Life in the Passenger Seat

I really enjoy driving. Always have. I like the freedom of flitting about, I like going fast. As a single mother, I do ALL the driving. I drive to soccer practices, riding lessons, pick up late at night from dances and aborted sleepovers. I know all the quick routes around town, have ways I like to get to places and am  known to back-seat drive in cabs. Yes, I’m one of those.

I wasn’t sure how my daughter’s driver’s ed was going to go. It had been something I had been dreading and somehow pretending would never happen. I’m not sure why, but it seems like it’s a father’s role to teach his kids to drive. I wasn’t sure I had the right “driver training” gene. I didn’t think I would be patient enough. Sure enough, based on reports from my daughter, it seems it’s mostly dad’s who take their kids out to practice.

As Olivia learns the joys of driving, I have had to sit in the passenger seat, a place of second-in-command. It’s not a place I am familiar with. During our first drive I instinctively braked, pushing my foot onto the bare passenger side floor, but managed not to yell. OK, maybe I yelled just once as it seems new drivers need to learn about keeping themselves within a lane and not hitting a parked car whenever on-coming traffic seems a little too close. But mostly I was patient and calm.

With practice, I learned to wave my hand (quietly, quietly) to the left when my daughter got too close to the curb. I give calm directions like “Make a left ahead,” or “I hope you see that pedestrian waiting to cross,” but I have to be pleasant when she over-turns a turn, almost taking us into oncoming traffic or when she goes 49 mph on the highway. I have to say nice things like “you might want to speed up a little, sweetie,” instead of what I really want to say which is “will you hurry up already!” When she goes 74 mph I have to get all motherly and say “watch your speed,” instead of “finally!” Now when she is in the car with me I have to make “full and complete stops,” something I have discovered I am not very good at.

Driver’s Education has been as much an education for me as it has been for Liv. As we drive along, I look at her and realize how fast she has grown up, is growing up. I have to allow her to take the controls now, to screw up, to spend 15 minutes parallel parking the way I learned to. As parents our biggest job is to allow our kids to do these things, to relinquish the control we are used to having over everything aspect of their lives so that they can learn, can grow and can eventually have enough skills under their belts to eventually move out of our houses and into houses of their own. This is how we ensure they are not still living with us when they are 40.

I don’t think of myself as one of those mothers who hold the reins tightly, but with the driving I have discovered that I am, at least more than I thought I was. But more and more I am learning to let go. I am starting to enjoy being in the passenger seat–seeing things I’ve never seen before because I am always in control. A bird on a rooftop, a house under renovation, an amazing moon. I am learning to drive more cautiously, to slow down and make “full and complete” stops. I have become quite content in my car’s passenger seat, happy to see things I don’t see when I’m driving, things I would have missed had her dad taught her to drive. For this reason, I try to cherish the passenger seat experience and admire the strong, competent woman beside me, learning to take control. With a little wave of my hand (quietly, quietly), I am happy to show her the way.

P.S. to Olivia: No. I’m still not going to buy you a car.

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  1. Debbie March 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Beautiful post Abby. I have tears in my eyes as I see my future before me. My son starts driving in September and I too see Dads as the ones who “should” teach their children to drive. Don’t know why I have that sexist opinion, I just do. But I’m also a little excited for him and maybe even a little excited for me, finally having a chance to be in the passenger seat again. Thanks for sharing your positive experience.

  2. Michele Neff Hernandez March 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I SO said “Watch your speed.” when teaching two of my three to drive…um, I said it alot 🙂 I love the things parenting teens teaches me and the ways in which I see the world shifting because of these lessons. Great post, enjoy the view!

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