I didn’t learn to drive until Maia was a baby. When I still lived at home and my friends started getting their learner’s permits, my parents made it clear: Don’t go jacking up our insurance rate with your wacky driving dreams. (I rode my bike everywhere, so they didn’t have the added incentive of taxi driver-relief).
The traveling years presented no particular opportunity or necessity to learn to drive. There are trains and busses and boats everywhere but America. So, it wasn’t until I enrolled in college in California and they told me that I couldn’t live with a kid in the dorms that it happened: Shit. I need a car. My paternal grandparents, having denied a plea to help me pay for college, called in a surprise offer of $3,000 for a car. I spent $1,000 on the deposit for our new off-campus apartment, $1,000 on the first two months rent, and $1,000 on a rusty Dodge Colt that would burst into flames within a couple of years. But right then it wasn’t on fire and it was mine. I figured out how to operate the thing well enough to pass the driving test. (Actually, the woman told me I’d failed. So I promptly burst into tears, mumbling something about the baby and school starting tomorrow. Bizarrely, she changed her mind and passed me. That’s the power of youth for ya.). But I truly learned to drive after I got the license—with Maia in a car seat in the back. Later, when she found a plastic car in a cousin’s back yard, she jumped behind the wheel and started muttering “shit! shit!” because she understood that this was how you drive.
I never became a fabulous driver, but I easily learned to funnell my growing control issues into this new task. I’m a good sport about doing the driving on a long trip. A really good sport. I won’t let you take the wheel for more than five miles—not even that if Maia’s in the car. Hell–I’ve internalized this mama thing as well as the next gal and that means that if we’re gonna to go down, it’s going to be my fault, all right?
And so it’s just a little bit surreal and a whole lot stressful now that my daughter is learning to drive. I asked baby-Maia to (unknowingly) put her life on the line through every transition into my own adulthood, but I never thought about the fact that I might have to one day do the same for woman-Maia. She’s only a few years shy of the age I was when I had her, but I’ve spent these last sixteen years training myself to be as insanely accountable as the world would hold me for every wrong turn I made as a mom that I find it excruciating to begin to release that accountability—even to her. But here we are. It’s just the two of us in the car again. My high school students have warned me that even good parents make bad sex educators and bad driving educators, but here we are. “Shit!” And it’s still me saying “Shit!” But I’m in the passenger’s seat now. “A person!”
“I see them, Mom.”
“Yes, Mom. It’s a block away.”
“I’m already ten miles under the speed limit. I’ll get pulled over if I go any slower.”
I find friends willing to teach my daughter to drive, but she rejects the ideas. “I want you to teach me. I’m with you all of the time.”
“You don’t think I’m a sucky driving teacher?”
And I know I am. A sucky driving teacher. But a friend might be able to come over once a week,—if she’s going to get day-to-day driving experience, it’s going to be during our regular taxi-ing hours together.
So, I may have to get a prescription for anti-anxiety meds yet, ’cause this part of our little parenting journey is freaking stressful.