Preparing Your Teen for Driving Means Not Screaming

Growing up in the city I started using city transportation before I was twelve. By the time I was thirteen I was traveling from one end of the city to another and had memorized more bus route schedules than the French verbs I was supposed to be learning. Freedom was the bus pass my parents bought me, clutched tightly in my pale wee hands.

When I got older, I discovered the joys of taxi cabs. It wasn't until I needed legal identification when I was 18 (so I could go whoring at the bars) that I decided I should perhaps look into getting my drivers license.

City life spoiled me. While I may have got my learner's permit when I was 18, I didn't actually buck up and take my drivers test until Boo and I started to get serious. If I wanted to bump my ugly with his ugly it became pretty clear that I was going to have to drive out to see him on the nights when he couldn't make the trip into the city. I was just shy of my 20th birthday before I finally received my drivers license. Young love will move mountains. Or in my case, inspire me to learn how to drive.

My children, however, aren't blessed with a public transportation system at their disposal. Since they are stuck in the middle of buttfark nowhere, my husband and I have decided the best gift we can give them is their independence when they turn 16. They will need to know how to drive if they want to get part time jobs or go to the movies or do anything regular teens doing. Because let's face it, the wheels on this mom taxicab are running thin and I've got better things to do than chaffeur their arses around until they move out of my house.

Since Fric turned 14 this year, she is eligible for her learners permit. We've spent months encouraging her to prepare for the exam. When she turned 14, she was excited to take her exam. In theory. In reality, she wanted her permit to wave in front of her friend's noses but she was actually scared of taking the test and failing it.

I remember that type of fear. Self doubt. It can sabotage even the smartest people. I was straddling a fine line between encouraging my daughter to believe in herself and becoming a nag.

So last week, I decided to spring the test on Fric. I showed up at school, yanked her out of gym class and told her to brush her hair.

"Where are we going? Do I have a doctor's appointment I don't know about?" she queried while trying to untangle her sweaty hair.

"Well, you have an appointment. Sort of."

"What does that mean?"

"Guess what you are doing in about five minutes?


"Taking your learners permit test! Whoot!" And then I did that embarrassing 'raise the roof' motion with my hands and completely cemented her opinion of me as the perpetually uncool mother.

"What??? But! I need to study!"

"Study schmudy. You've done that for months. You are a smart girl. You are READY. You just need to believe you can do this. Trust me, if I thought you weren't ready I wouldn't have put on a bra and ventured out in public to get you."

Luckily for me, the school is only three blocks from the local registries office and by the time she realized I was serious, I was already hopping out of the vehicle, telling her to hurry up.

Fric walked into the office looking a little like a deer caught in some headlights, but I ignored it. I was either going to be the greatest mother in the world in about thirty minutes or I was going to be the worst mother ever. I was like a Hollywood stage mom, pushing her kid in front of the camera whether her kid liked it or not.

A few moments later, Fric was walking towards the back of the office to take her test as I stood in front of the counter, cheering her on.

"You can do this Fric! Make Momma proud! Take your time! Use your brain!" I called.

"I kinda hate you right now," she called back.

"You're 14. You're supposed to hate me. Have fun!" I chirped back and then settled in to an odd smelling chair to await the outcome.

I may not have given Fric a chance to be nervous, but my guts were churning. The what-if's were on full attack. What if she failed? What if I pushed her to do something she wasn't ready for and I was too blind to see? What if she hated me forever?

Turns out, thirty minutes later, I was the best mom in the whole world. Fric bounced out from the back room all smiles and practically shouted, "I PASSED!!!"

Thank God because I was completely unprepared for the other option.

Sixty five dollars, some paperwork and one really bad drivers photo later, and my daughter is legally allowed to get behind the wheel of a car with supervision.

"I can't wait to show all my friends!" she crowed as she waved the white slip of paper around. "I have to call Dad! Thank you Mom! I got my learners!!" she squealed.

Score one for mother's intuition.

As we walked out of the office and headed to our vehicle, Fric walked towards the driver's side.

"Um, Fric? What are you doing?"

"I passed! I can drive now!"

"No, you can learn how to drive. You don't actually know how to drive. You know the rules. You don't know the road."

"But I have my permit now, so you can teach me."

"Um, no."

"What? Why not?" she demanded.

"Because I don't have a death wish. You can drive the lawn tractor. How's that?"

"Not funny Mom."

"Listen kid. I did my parental duty with believing in you, encouraging you and helping you study. My duty ends here. The rest is out of my hands and straight into your father's. He likes to walk on the wild side."

"But Moooooom!"

"Get in the back seat and buckle up baby. Back to school you go." And then I slid in the driver's seat and turned up the stereo to drown out the whining.

"Nice Mom. Dangle the carrot and then just yank it back. That's just mean."

Apparently I hadn't completely thought this drivers permit business through. I stupidly thought she'd be satisfied with her permit for at least thirty seconds before hounding me to hand her the keys to my car. I really am getting old and unhip.

All the way back to school she graded my driving. "You didn't shoulder check." "That was a stop sign Mom, not a yield sign." "The posted speed limit is 30. Not 50."

Almost a week later and she's still doing a running commentary on my driving. It's more annoying than when my parents would take me driving when I was a teen.

I'm starting to miss public transportation.

My daughter may have learned the rules of the road and passed her permit test but I think I learned the more valuable life lesson:

Never encourage your children to take their next life step unless you are fully prepared to let go of your car keys.

I know there is only so much stalling I can do. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to crawl into the passenger seat and let her have the wheel. A bus pass never sounded so magical before.