Sitting on the bathroom floor waiting patiently for my firstborn to produce something to cheer about, hoping against all hope that the day would be accident-free, I firmly believed that potty-training would be the most trying life skill to impart during my parenting career, which, at that point, was less than 3 years old.
That belief held true until this summer, when Ellie received her learner’s permit.
We have resumed our student-teacher relationship, except this time Ellie is not the one at risk of having an “accident” during the process.
Our first lesson took place in the church parking lot. I prayed more in those 15 minutes than I have in the past 40 years.
“Press down on the brake; it’s the one on the left,” I started, recalling the time my husband came up from the basement a couple of years ago to Ellie and Amelia having a conversation in what they believed was an empty house. (“I’m not saying we should try this,” Ellie said to her younger sister, “but if we were to take the car out, which one do you think is the brake pedal?”)
“Now squeeze the button on the gear shifter and gently pull it to the ‘D,’” I instructed. And then, knowing deep in my soul that life was about to forever change, I allowed the following words to cross my lips, “Ease up on the brake and slowly push the ga—”
The car jumped forward 15 feet; my heart and stomach followed. We both screamed.
I considered throwing in the towel for good, but, just as I chose not to change her diapers until leaving for college, I was not about to be her personal chauffeur forever.
Onward we traveled, 300 feet in a straight line at a surprisingly frighteningly fast six miles per hour.
If the only place she would ever drive were I-70’s construction zone during rush hour, she would be set.
Unfortunately, she was very likely going to have to break 20 and turn corners at some point, and her lessons continued, progressing from straight lines to right-turn-only loops around the neighborhood to public roads with stoplights and other cars.
And I have progressed from clinging white-knuckled to the passenger seat, to sometimes grabbing the steering wheel and involuntarily teaching her new ways to conjugate curse words, to apologizing with my eyes to other drivers around town and the pedestrian she probably wasn’t going to actually hit in the hardware store parking lot, to longing for the good old days of potty-training when no seat belts were required.
How any of us ever learned to drive is a mystery to me. Even more so is how we will do this for three more children who, thanks to Mario Kart, believe you can fall off the road and pop right back on to win the race.
Though I suppose just as they all mastered the porcelain throne, so too will they master the driver’s seat. Hopefully accident-free.