Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Driving with Miss Josie
Almost every parent who has raised a child from infancy through to adulthood has experienced that nail-biting task of shepherding a teenager through his or her ‘driving permit’. Based on the stories shared with other parents who have survived this ordeal, I know that every teenager is different. Some are born ‘drivers’. Some catch on quickly, and soon feel at ease behind the wheel. Others are more ‘challenging’. Simply hopeless. Menaces, in fact.
My oldest son, Guy, obtained his driver’s license way back in 1999. To hear his version of the tale, I had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he passed his driving test the first time around. Forget the months of letting him drive my Dodge Caravan here, there and everywhere. When it came time for his exam… I was gone. Not here. “Away”.
You all know me. I never go ANYWHERE. But in the spring of 1999, my folks asked me if I’d like to accompany Mammy, my grandmother, to Kansas. She wanted to visit my Uncle Mitch in Towanda, but she was getting a little rickety, and it wasn’t advisable that she fly alone. Long story short… I agreed to go, and our plane tickets were purchased.
Shortly before we were due to depart Guy received a notice in the mail of his date to take his driving exam. I couldn’t believe it! A milestone for my eldest son—and I was going to miss it! Honestly, I was distressed. But others promised to help him prepare by getting him to practice his parallel parking, his ‘stopping on a hill’, etc. And so… I went to Kansas, and Guy stayed home to attain that hallmark of adulthood without his mother’s guidance.
And now, it is twelve years later. Instead of being thirty-six years old, I am forty-seven. (You’re doing the math, aren’t you? Well, so did I… and I stand by my statement.) But instead of having a son with a permit—this time, I have a daughter.
Is there a difference?
I am different, and driving with a daughter isn’t the same, either.
For one thing--I’m older. Wiser. Am I more patient? I THINK I am, but who am I to judge? One thing I do know… I’m more suited to the task of teaching Josie-Earl to drive than her father is. I’d already received a commentary about every dire thing her father told her was about to happen on the one morning she drove with him.
She was going to sink into the shoulder of the road. A dozen times. She was going to roll the truck over. Take out the bridge in Solon which spans the mighty Kennebec River. Clip a passing car. Total the truck, lose her life, and cause great embarrassment to her father… if he managed to survive the experience.
In fact, Josie’s words to me when she arrived home from her friend Chloe’s that fateful morning, were this:
“I’m never driving with Papa, again!”
Well. After such a statement, I was determined to be the ‘cool’ parent. I mean… if there’s a contest going on—I want to WIN! And besides--I want Josie-Earl to be a confident driver, and a competent one. Not reckless, but poised and able. I’ve told her many times that if she can pass a driver’s exam in my 22 foot long Dodge Ram, she’ll be able to drive anything.
It had been three months since Josie had driven, due to the fact that we rarely go anywhere during the evenings, she works weekends, and the few times we did venture out this winter, it was snowing and slippery. But her 16th birthday is coming up, and so I suggested that we start driving regularly so that she can take her test as soon as she’s able.
Here’s where the difference between Guy and Josie is most evident. One of them did as I suggested, without arguing. And the other… didn’t. Doesn’t. And probably never will.
“Move away from the shoulder, Josie. It’s soft, this time of year.”
“Mama! There might be a car coming!”
“But there’s not. And if you see one, you can slow down and move over if you need to.”
“By then it’ll be too late!”
“Okay, Jos… we’re going to turn right at this intersection… Oops, you didn’t come to a complete stop. If this had been your driver’s exam, you would have failed, you know.”
“There’s no stop sign there!”
“Yes, there is. You’ll need to pay attention to that sort of thing.”
“Pffftt! When I take my test, I’ll be in town. THEY have traffic lights AND the stop signs aren’t covered by branches!”
“Josie, this isn’t just about passing your test. This is about being a safe driver.”
“Pfffftt! YOU were the one talking about failing my driver's test.”
“Josie, slow down a little. It’s easy to lose control in a truck when you’re going over washboards this fast. The back-end is light, and it can get away from you.”
“I’ll be taking my test on the tar. They don’t HAVE washboards on tar roads.”
“This isn’t about passing your test. This is about being a safe driver.”
Her eyes rolled so far back in her head that the irises were barely visible. Could she see the road when they were positioned like that? I didn’t think so.
“Quit rolling your eyes and pay attention, please. Now, you probably ought to speed up a little…”
“You just told me to slow down!” Another roll of the eyes, but quicker. Less whites, but more attitude.
“We’re on the tar, now. And the speed limit is 45 mph.”
“How do YOU know?”
“Because I know. When a road is un-posted, it’s taken for granted that the speed limit is forty-five.”
“Everywhere? Or just… HERE?”
“I don’t know, Josie. We aren’t driving anywhere else. We’re driving in Maine.”
“I hate driving this truck.”
“You’ll love it, eventually. Driving gives you an incredible feeling of independence.”
She made her little expression of disdain, again.
“I’d rather just be driven around.”
“Well, you’d better work hard to get good grades, so you can get scholarships, get a great education and terrific job… and then you can hire a chauffeur. Until that time, please pay attention. Do you see that truck parked on the side of the road? What are you going to do as you approach?”
“Okay. And then what? Okay, slow down, Josie. JOSIE, slow down!”
“I AM, Mama! Don’t holler! You just TOLD me to go faster!”
I so wanted to be cooler than her father. But even way-cool “Mama’s” have their limits.
To be continued. If I survive…