Today, I passed the torch. Today, I officially retired from my reluctant position of amateur driving instructor. Today, my 15-year-old daughter began a twenty-hour driver training course with a professional instructor and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Ever since my daughter Abby passed her learners license written exam in early January at the age of 14, I have been the guy… the guy expected to show her the ropes, to introduce her to the wonderful world of driving, and it has been a nerve-wracking journey to say the least.
On that chilly afternoon in January, I agreed to let Abby drive if she passed her written exam, and pass she did… with flying colours. So, as promised, we drove to a large, empty parking lot and we nervously switched seats, with me setting up shop in the passenger side, and Abby in my seat, in my spot, in MY CAR! She adjusted the seat position, repositioned the rear view mirror and CLICK… she put it in DRIVE. I instructed her to firmly hold the brake down with her foot and gently ease off the pedal… and BOOM! We were moving at what felt like warp speed, but it was actually (wait for it) 5 kilometers an hour. The face she made in the photo above was the face she made the entire time behind the wheel.
Abby absolutely LOVED it, and I absolutely HATED it!
I had no idea 5 km/h could feel so damn fast as we “sped” through the parking lot, making too-sharp turns to the left and then too-sharp of turns to the right and then too many herky-jerky stops. I still can’t believe how many times I yelled out “SLOW DOWN”! – only to hear Abby yell back:
“I don’t think I can physically go any slower!”
45 minutes of slow-motion laps around the parking lot felt like an eternity, and as we switched seats to make the drive home, I felt my heart rate slowly but surely ease back into it’s normal rhythm. How was I supposed to try this again? Would my heart be able to handle it? Fortunately for me, we were still locked in the icy grip of a classic Canadian winter for at least a few more months, so we agreed to pick up our “driving lessons with Dad” when the snow melted and the roads were clear.
Abby did not forget my pledge to resume her quest for driving proficiency and on a warm, dry weekend in mid-May we found a quiet area with minimal traffic and we tried again. This time, we were driving on actual roads with actual stop signs, actual pedestrians and (gulp) ACTUAL MOVING VEHICLES!
Being in the passenger seat meant everything on the right hand side of the road appeared shockingly too close for comfort. I warned her about getting too close to those parked cars! Or too close to the curb! Or about getting way too close to those massive steel construction waste bins! However, a funny thing happened that day. She seemed infinitely more confident behind the wheel, and all of a sudden 5 km/h felt really slow. We graduated to 10, 20 and OMG… even 30 km/h. Wow, what a speed demon!
The following day was a Monday and when I picked Abby up from school, I impulsively asked if she wanted to drive home. She jumped at the chance and once again my heart rate increased ten-fold as we were forced to enter our first interchange… which featured TWO roundabouts and my car drifting uncomfortably close to the guardrail. Oh the humanity! But the fun wasn’t over yet… as Abby insisted on parking the car in the garage for the first time ever – to triumphantly complete her first ever commute from school to home. It wasn’t the best park job in the world, but it wasn’t the worst either.
And so, driving to and from school became an almost daily ritual, and Abby soon had the route down pat. She even got better at pulling in and out of our garage. I decided we could push some boundaries and try some different routes home from school. She also aced those no problem.
Then, one day I asked if she wanted to drive home from her basketball game… on a really busy road. Once again, she was up for the challenge but none of us in the car were prepared for the stress of bumper-to-bumper traffic and the difficulties of changing lanes in that confusing melee! When we arrived back at home, I found that all-too-familiar jackrabbit heart rate took a while to return to normal.
Despite the stress of that particular trip home from basketball, I had to admit that our new driver was actually fairing pretty well and I was proud of her progress.
And then… it happened.
Abby wanted to drive home from her grade nine grad party at the school, and I said yes! Why the hell not? It was a route she had driven dozens of times, so what was the big deal? Well, it was her very first time driving at night, but that didn’t seem to phase her at all as we approached our home, seemingly in one piece. All she had to do was pull into our garage.
No problem, right? Wrong.
Every single time Abby had previously pulled into our garage, it was empty. This time, Lianne’s car was parked on the right hand side. Again… no problem, right? Wrong. I think having another vehicle to worry about spooked Abby and she overcompensated by turning in closer to the left side of the garage. I thought maybe she was pulling in too tight… but before I could say anything to warn her, I could already hear it! The scrunching sound of my car rubbing the entrance to the garage!
Oh boy. Abby felt awful. I felt awful. Lianne felt awful. It was just awful all around. To make matters worse, it was the first time Lianne was also in the car while Abby was behind the wheel, and our new driver really wanted to make a great first impression. The only good news was that the scuff on the wheel well wasn’t all that awful. And besides, my old Subaru has over 155,000 km of wear and tear on it. It’s almost a decade old and is entering its BEATER phase. No big deal. However, Abby felt it WAS a huge deal and stewed over her driving error for a couple of days before she got back on that horse.
When she did finally climb back behind the wheel, she put her mistake behind her and continued to gain confidence on the roads. Despite her ongoing progress, I felt that Abby had reached a plateau under my barely adequate tutelage. She is definitely ready to drive on roads that have a posted speed limit of over 50 km/h. But here’s the issue…
I AM NOT READY!
The thought of her driving on freeways with speed limits of 80 and 100 km/h terrifies me. Just thinking about it gets the old heart rate to spike! I’m sure I could continue to instruct her and try to correct any miscues while traveling at relatively low speeds, but at high speeds?
No way! No how! No sir! No thanks!
And, that brings us back to TODAY.
Today was a good day. Today, Abby completed her first two hours of driver training with a qualified instructor. Today, I asked her if she went on the freeway, and she excitingly said:
“YES! But, only for a little bit.” That “little bit” was way more than I ever wanted to try, so again I must say: