Driving Lessons

We have – on either side of our fireplace – framed portraits, each of a family of four. On another prominent wall we have a portrait of our family of six. Our goal has not been to replace anybody, but to create our own unique family. With kindness, mutual respect and a lot of humor.

It took us a long time to get here.

This is how I explained it to my sons: There is a daddy-shaped space that will be in your heart forever. Nobody will take his place. Nobody else fits. But here’s the thing about love… If somebody special comes into our lives, your heart will grow. That’s what love does. And there will be a new space just for him. It doesn’t take over the daddy space – it’s its own thing.

Fast forward a couple years, and I shared this same idea with my step-son, but he wasn’t buying it. He had definite ideas about where the wicked step-mother space should be, and let’s just say it wasn’t a prominent place in his heart.

But this is a boy who is pretty much all heart, even if he doesn’t want me to know this, so instead I appointed myself head cheerleader and president of his personal fan club. And it has been amazing what good we have done by putting our little broken hearts together. I made the decision simply to be present in this boy’s life.


This is not always an easy task, particularly when “being there” means sitting in the shotgun seat while a 16-year old takes the wheel… Nothing brings you closer to the Almighty than teaching a teenager how to drive.

My own mother is a calm, patient, kind woman. She’s not much of a drama queen. I’m the drama queen. The first – and pretty much last – time she tried to teach me to drive turned her into a squawking, raving lunatic. Normally an articulate woman, she was reduced to unintelligible gesturing in a futile attempt to explain to me how to get the stick shift car into motion without stripping first gear completely. I eventually got out of the car and insisted that she drive us back to the house.

Dad met us at home, smiling expectantly, and my mother and I quickly wiped the grin right off his face. Slam! “I’m not driving with her ever again! YOU teach me how to drive!” Slam! “I’m not driving with her ever again! YOU teach her how to drive!”

My father taught me how to drive.

And now my step-son is in the driver’s seat. My husband – already experienced in teaching our oldest how to drive – has generously opted to let me have a turn. I vow to myself that I will not become the shrieking stress case that my mother was in the passenger seat.

My boy is very excited. The ink is still wet where the instructor signed off on his driver’s permit. After an expertly executed 11 point turn, my son extracts the car from the end of the cul-de-sac. We are on our way! As we turn onto the cross street, my neighbor passes on her way into our street. Of course, Mr. Social smiles waves and proceeds to careen dangerously close to the guard rail. Sharp gasp!! The overgrown oleander would have slapped me in the face had the window been open.

I’ve already failed. My inner squawking, raving lunatic is clawing her way right out. I clasp my hands in my lap and clamp my mouth shut. “Sorry sweetie,” I say. “I’m okay. You’re doing great.”

I remember all the times my mother attempted to stop the car while I was driving by pressing her feet through the floorboards on her side of the car. I’m not going to do this to my kid. Inhale. Exhale. I’m curling my toes inside my shoes. We are jerking forward and back. Side to side. I’m really grateful the car is an automatic. It’s not unlike Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But without the safety features.

I start to pray. Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. What would Mary have done with Jesus behind the wheel? I’m convinced that she’s only a saint because she never had to sit in the passenger seat with her son at the wheel. She doesn’t have a clue! How is she going to help me?! Jesus turned her into a raging lunatic without a car! In his preteen 12 year-old arrogance – he decides to veer off in his own direction on foot and hold court in the temple. She finally finds him and loses her cool “Where the HELL have you been? Your father and I have been looking EVERYWHERE?” To which He replies “Whatever.” Or some similar tail-tweaking response endemic to teenagers.

I try again…Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.

I think about my step-son’s mother – where is she now?! I have heard several stories about her driving prowess, none of which bode well for her sons’ driving ability. I sure hope she is donning her angel wings right now and clearing the traffic for miles around. 

Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners …

I have the conscious thought that our auto insurance premiums have been paid; and we have great medical coverage. Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for us.

… now and at the hour of our death.

Our death? This prayer is not helping. I really hope that hour isn’t imminent. I wonder whether I’ve updated the designated beneficiary on my life insurance. I feel compelled to call our attorney to make sure he’s finalized our estate plan. And to call my mother with an apology.

We arrive safely back home. Amen.

Took my son driving again today. Truth be told, he’s already better today than yesterday.


Wishing you light and strength on your path. Especially when a teenager is driving.

5 thoughts on “Driving Lessons

  1. Don’t worry….the accident WILL happen but no one will be hurt. He will probably be changing the radio when it does! At least that was the excuse of 3 of mine!

  2. After my stepson’s suicide, one of my big regrets was not insisting that he get his driver’s license. He was a very nervous driver, but it never bothered me when we drove together. I guess I was much more sure he would overcome his nerves than he was.

  3. Takes me back to my childhood and family and what we each thought of each other, who was the favorite, how did we get where we are today and what a great family we are including that stepson of yours. I look forward to each Tuesday and love reading your thoughts and words.

  4. SO, SO funny! You and your son did well. Driving lessons for teenagers tend to have personalty-transforming effects. While your driving lesson with your calm and gentle mother managed to reduce her to “squawking, raving lunatic,” the only time I ever heard my sweet, even-tempered father swear was during my stick-shift driving lesson. Thanks for sharing this!

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