The wonderful thing about growing older is that sometimes your children become your friends. It doesn't happen right away. It's too difficult for a late teen ager or early twentyish type to associate with their parent. In their mind, parents are incredibly unknowledgeable. And it was only with the greatest effort and initiative that the grown up child suffers their ministrations. They like to tell their parents what they’re going to do.
"I want to marry someone. She's a lot like me – self-made."
"I beg your pardon? Self-made? Where was I during those ninety six -tours of labor when you were born weighing eighty one pounds?”
But that came later. Long before that came the driving lessons.
The normal way for a parent to make sure that their child learns to drive is to send a permission slip to school, and attend the funeral of the driving instructor when it's all over. If for some reason, the child has delayed mumps during the time allotted for his road instruction, his parents’ efforts may be necessary instead – they may need to teach him themselves. If this happens, the wise parent will join the foreign legion, pretend memory loss, and insist that this is not their child.
If none of these work, a possible out is to flip a coin with the child's other parent. That's not too smart if the other parent has already helped in teaching another child to drive. Then they are certain to threaten to join the foreign legion, pretend memory loss, or protest that this is not their child.
"But you were the only one!" I pleaded without avail.
"I can't remember whether that's true or not.”
“I'm your wife. This is our child.”
"Mail me to the offices of the Foreign Legion."
So, it was me this time. At any rate, my son was already there, dangling car keys. A bit later, I was shaking and quaking along the driveway toward instant annihilation. My destruction was embodied in the black Pontiac Grand Prix he'd prepared the year before, when he was fifteen. I should have known when he polished and painted the old wreck (calling it names like "Beast", "Hurtler", "DevaStation") that the future boded ill for someone!
"This is all a dreadful mistake" I began calmly, patting him on the hand. (How could they let babies learn to drive?) His Tonka trucks were still in the toy box in the basement. (and they're still in the same toy box in the basement). "You'll just have to wait another year. You'll only be barely seventeen:"
"I'll be too old to drive:" he moaned. "My life will be over."
"If I get in that heap with you, I'm afraid maybe mine may be" I said, deciding to be honest.
"Mom! You taught me that a man has nothing to fear but fear itself:"
"But that's what terrifies me. My fear is that I don't want to die yet. I still haven't straightened out the laundry."
"It's just a couple of times around the block!" he said reassuringly.
I picked up the checksheet I had with me to annotate which areas needed work. He put in the key, turned it on and we hurtled right up inside the garage and stopped as the bumper connected with a board, gently, to be fair.
"How was that?" he asked proudly. He had stopped.
"OK" I said. I wasn't going to suggest we go through that again. "Just ease your foot off next time."
He eased it off and it took what seemed to be several hours as he drove in reverse, back down the driveway. He reversed turned without hitting any cars.
"You can ease off the brakes a little further" I said, my fear beginning to be that he would be an old man by the time this was over.
Within a short time, as I sat rigid, determined not to show terror, he mastered the four way stop. "Boy, was that a relief:" he said. "After that first stop, I didn't know if I'd ever be able to do it again without getting us killed"
"And now a left turn," I said hopefully, and watched him grow pale. He gave a right turn signal and we went right. Then we turned right.
"Maybe a left turn at the next corner, son."
At the next corner, he signaled and we turned again. And so on for the next two corners.
"You realize we're going in circles," I said, beginning to get dizzy.
"We'll never get lost," he said worriedly. "I'm not so sure about those left turns. If I do it wrong, and a car crashes into us, it'll get your side."
"Why don't you just keep going straight until you feel sure of yourself? Then you can make a left turn.”
We traveled a direct path for five minutes that was destined to not get us lost. And then smoothly, as though he'd been doing it for years, he executed his first left turn, correctly gauging the oncoming traffic. An hour later and we arrived back home.
"That wasn't so bad, now was sit?" he asked hopefully.
"Not bad at all" I said, thinking of the freeway, parallel parking, and several other things lay ahead. Fortunately, my husband was not joining the Foreign Legion, and was going to take his turn. That way, we'd be able to go through therapy together after it was all over.
Did all of that actually happen over twenty years ago?
He got his license. And then he married What's-Her-Name who couldn't boil water.
"The telephone's ringing" my husband called.
"I'll get it!"
"Hi, Mom. We thought we might drive down and see you this week. How ya doing?"
"Pretty well. I lost my gallbladder two days ago and your father has a temperature of over a hundred degrees from a virus. Otherwise, all's well:"
"We might stay awhile and help you out. You'll need someone to drive you around for a few days."
"Did you ever become good at four way stopping? Don’t worry, I'll be able to get to the grocery store and back, and also to the doctor's office. Other than that - you'll have to take your chances."
Isn't it interesting, I thought after hanging up the phone - I really think I got that right.
Opaline Marks is the pen name of Opal Markiewicz, a writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction essays.