Possibly one of the worst fights I had with my mother when I was a teenager occurred at the intersection of McClintock and Cornell in Tempe, Arizona. I was making a left turn and had inched her Toyota Camry into position. Oncoming traffic was heavy and my mom was gripping the emergency brake and maybe even looking for an oxygen mask. She was giving a ton of instructions and I thought I heard her say go, so I did.
We missed being in a head on collision by approximately half an inch. I believe our argument went something like this:
Mom: “Oh my God! Are you trying to kill us? F#$%, Crazy, Jesus-H Fu*&%%^, etc. What the heck were you thinking?”
Me-(ego bruised): “No, I wasn’t trying to kill us, Mom, just you because you would have been hit first!”
Mom: “Give me the goddamn keys!”
Me: *Walking home*
Fast forward 27 years. My 16 year old son has earned his permit and I am the one who has the most availability during the week—thus, it’s become my “privilege” to teach him how to drive. I imagine that the previous sentence will be read with glee by mom. I think she’ll share it with her friends and they’ll have a hearty laugh about how what goes around comes around. And they’ll be right.
Here’s what I didn’t understand when my mother was teaching me how to drive. She didn’t see me as a young adult with a sense of responsibility and underlying comprehension of the risks involved in this rite of passage. If she was anything like I am now, she saw me around the age of 4 or 5, holding my blanky and starting the ignition. I know this because when I look at my son, I see him in his OshKosh B’gosh overalls. I see that little cherub controlling a death trap in the guise of a Nissan. In an effort to avoid a public freak out and to keep my son in the driver’s seat, I have compiled a list of actions to be taken in order to survive teaching my teenager to drive. Please use as needed.
Xanax is a-okay.
I’m not saying you should score it on the street, but I mean I can’t see you, so.
Please pay attention: The first time you pull out of a neighborhood or parking lot and onto a main thoroughfare, you will want your anti-anxiety meds to have taken effect. I love my primary care physician. She has a teenage daughter. Solidarity.
Clip your fingernails to the quick.
You’ll be clenching your fists on average of 74,876 times every trip you take with your teenager. Avoid extra pain by removing the possibility of scarring your palms.
Practice your poker face—then apply it to your voice.
Think relaxation tapes from days of yore. Conjure your most boring teacher’s voice. Do anything to remove emotion because even joy will be received with an overreaction.
For example, when my son successfully completed a series of 3 point turns and I praised him, he interpreted my praise as though I had just said, “Dude! You’re like a master driver! Why not go ahead and blast Jay Z or Drake while you navigate the freeway on-ramp! Be sure to try to recline your seat as you hit 60 mph too.”
Every time you are tempted to scream out in total panic and despair at your teen’s lack of judgment, clench your butt muscles instead and apply poker voice. My butt is getting so firm.
Watch a documentary or film featuring European roadways.
The first time your kid begins to drift onto the wrong side of the road, simply say, England.
Resist the urge to let your teenager drive him/herself to school.
There is an invisible cloud of Look-there-are-my-friends-I’mma-act-like-a-jerk — it’s like vapor. You will also potentially be saving your child from the embarrassment of parking on the curb because he/she was trying so hard to be noticed.
When you occasionally stop at a red light while your teenager is driving and look out the passenger window so that your child doesn’t see your tears, be alert enough to notice the older woman giving you a knowing look. Silently curse her when the light turns green because you are deeply envious of how much her car belongs to just her.
Make sure that you and your significant other are on the same page about things like speed limits.
In my state, if you actually drive the speed limit, you will put your life at risk. Hence my fear of my son applying my very safe husband’s advice too earnestly.
Know the habits of drivers in your area.
My son is currently tapping into his psychic abilities because in our town one is supposed to just know when the car ahead plans on turning or merging lanes. Mind reading is a must.
Keep the younger siblings muzzled in the backseat.
My daughter is only a couple of years younger than my son. They are the fiercest friends in the world. The car is not the world. The car is where your daughter will kick the back of the driver’s seat causing your teenager to turn around mid-acceleration to utter profanities you didn’t know he knew while your daughter lobs them back causing your poker voice to vanish. Lightening quick actions you never knew you possessed will be taken in a display of something akin to bionic parenting — such as simultaneously squeezing your backseat-child’s knee to show you mean business, and hitting the hazard lights as the voice of Thor rises from the depths of your body to silence the moment. In the silent aftermath you will demand the keys be removed from the ignition. Using your now-raw-non-neutral voice you will instruct your children to walk home and think about what they’ve done.
My son is improving in his driving skills every day. He dreams aloud about what kind of car he’ll purchase when his 16 birthday rolls around this December. This is hilarious and somewhat adorable. We’ve been discussing things like getting a job and reality.
My husband and I spent a recent Saturday at a team parent meeting because our boy made the JV basketball team. At the meeting, we were informed about the practice schedule among other things. Our boy now has to be dropped off and picked up from school on average of 28 times per week. Suddenly, December can’t come soon enough. Luckily for all of us, the road to school and back is a straight shot, and if he has his own car I can follow him if I feel like it. I think I’m going to feel like it.
Jess Burnquist is a teacher living in Phoenix, Arizona.