Teaching a Teenaged Boy to Drive

Step 1: Don’t. If you can pawn this harrowing task off on another responsible adult, say, your spouse, or your truck-driver father with the 35-year good-driving record, do that. My husband taught our oldest son to drive, and then vowed never to teach another one. This approach has worked out brilliantly for him, but not so well for me, in light of the fact that we have four sons. I have, however, survived the death-defying experience of teaching two young men to drive, while currently an exuberant 15-year old impatiently waits his turn, so if you cannot delegate this particular parenting task, there is still hope.

Step 2: Implement a family GPA standard for driving. Make it at least as high as your insurance company’s good student discount, but preferably higher. No D’s. And yes, the GPA only counts if those good grades appear on the boy’s official transcript. If you are lucky, your son’s grades will be high enough for him to remain eligible to play sports but too low to drive. If he is lucky (and does his homework), he will put the student in student-athlete, and you will then be obligated to sign him up for Driver’s Ed, as you promised you would.

Step 3: Insist the soon-to-be driver navigate the DMV himself. This process alone might deter him from wanting to drive. But if he is old enough to drive (and has the requisite grades), then he should be mature enough to figure out the written-test/permit/behind-the-wheel/license gauntlet. Keep in mind that your primary goal is safety, and there is precious little evidence to suggest that an additional teenager on the road will improve traffic conditions. If he cannot decipher the process, drop him off at the local library so he can improve his research skills.

Step 4: Call your insurance agent. In California, your automobile insurance policy will likely cover your son while he is driving with you on his permit, and you will not need to add him to your policy officially until he earns his license. If you are really brave, you can ask your agent to give you a quote on how much higher your insurance premiums will increase after your son passes his driver’s test. I recommend that you be seated when you make this phone call, and yes, that number includes the good student discount.

Step 5: Call your lawyer. Once your son is in the driver’s seat and you are clutching the passenger door and pressing your feet into the dashboard in a futile attempt to slow the vehicle, it is too late to change your named Executor. Call your life insurance agent while you’re at it. And maybe your family priest.

Step 6: Hire a professional. Before you can legally teach your son to drive, you must pay a certified driving instructor. You will again realize that teachers are woefully underpaid and unappreciated, but more importantly, you can postpone your role in the process for another day. Or week.

Step 7: Put beer in the fridge. You cannot start drinking before you take your son driving and certainly cannot bring any road sodas on your trek together, but you will have something to look forward to upon your return to calm your rattled nerves. Trust me.

Step 8: Take a deep breath, and then exhale slowly. Continue this technique while you hand your son the keys to your car. Let him open the door for you like the gentleman you are grooming him to be. Focus all your intention on your breathing. This will keep you from gasping and shrieking, neither of which helped you, if you can recall that miserable day when your own mother was teaching you to drive.

Step 9: Speak only when absolutely necessary. If, as your son takes the wheel and eases into traffic, every thought flies out of your usually overflowing head, here is a go-to list of driver-approved commentary: “Turn right here.” “That’s good.” “Nice stop.” “Much better.” “Slow down a bit.” “You’re doing fine.” “Good job.” “A little faster.” “Careful.” “There’s a spot way over there, off in the corner, away from all these cars.” Now is not the appropriate time to discuss the disastrous state of his laundry, his latest algebra exam or his girlfriend’s piercing.

Step 10: Smile. You will both laugh about this later, much later, probably after he has earned his undergraduate degree, is paying for his own auto insurance and can enjoy a beer with you. But for now, admire the young man behind the wheel, be grateful for how far he has already come, and whisper a prayer for his safety on the road ahead. It is a privilege to sit in the passenger seat while he drives. Soon you will be waving from the curb, as he shifts the gear into drive and journeys forward on his own.

Quintessential

I was so disappointed the last time I saw my dad. Not in him, but I had hoped that the flowers I had brought over just a few days earlier would last the week. Instead, the crystal vase on the nightstand next to his bed in the nursing facility was empty, the wilted flowers having been discarded, and the vase itself wiped clean.

My parents had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We weren’t allowed to release dad from the convalescent home, not even for such a significant event, due to certain, labyrinthine insurance coverage rules. Instead, my mother and my sister and I brought the celebration to my father, an elegant luncheon in the gardens. It was an intimate affair including only our immediate family, but with careful attention to detail, table linens, flowers, my mother’s favorite ganache cake, and a few bottles of my father’s favorite drink, a sparkly and benign apple cider.

The flowers were particularly beautiful, mostly white with a few gold accents in honor of the day. The tightly packed roses, hydrangeas, dahlias and peonies brimmed over the top of the square vase. I had mentioned to the florist that it was a special occasion, and he assured me he would carefully select the flowers. I ordered two floral arrangements so that each of my parents would have one. After the luncheon, one of my sons wrapped one vase with a towel and nestled it inside a banker’s box, so it wouldn’t topple and bruise the petals or spill water in my mom’s car on her way home. Another of my sons brought my dad’s arrangement to his room.

My father was pleased with the flowers. His grandparents were florists, and he grew up working in the family’s shop, overtime on all the major holidays. He had an eye both for the quality of the flowers themselves and for the overall presentation. When he was courting my mother, he made her corsages himself. Every time I plop cut flowers straight into a vase, he carefully removes each one, cuts the stem to a specific length and artfully rearranges the display. I was delighted that the anniversary flowers met with his approval, and doubly disappointed when later they didn’t meet with mine. I had arrived, expecting the arrangement to bring cheer, but the clear vase now held only a few brittle lemon leaves that had been spray-painted gold. The sight of the empty vase left me a little blue.

I didn’t say anything to dad about the missing flowers. We had other crucial ground to cover in our conversation – the grandchildren and their summer activities, politics, religion, the space program, the timing of his return home. He was his usual joyful, exuberant self.

“Oh Charlotte!” he exclaimed. He remembered something he wanted to tell me, “All of the nurses have thoroughly enjoyed the flowers you brought!” He was radiant.

I cocked my head quizzically, thinking about the absent flowers. He explained, “Every time a nurse came in to take care of me, I offered her a flower from the arrangement and a piece of chocolate from the box of See’s your sister brought.” The missing flowers suddenly made perfect sense. Nothing would have brought my father more joy than to share those beautiful flowers, one by one, with every person who walked through his door. It was exactly how he lived his whole life.

I had every intention of bringing him more flowers the following week, this time prepared for him to give away each individual daisy or sunflower, but I didn’t get the chance. He was gone too soon.

In his characteristic way, he left me with a gift, a story. It is the story of a man who spent his life giving, a story of love, selflessness, joy and hope. My favorite kind of story.

And so, I share. Because after all, I am my father’s daughter.

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Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And stories of love and joy.