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Permit Driver: Where's the Manual for Mom?

My Driver’s Ed

I learned how to drive when I was eight. Seriously! I would meet my parents at the end of our long driveway and Dad would let me steer home. I finished learning how to drive under the capable tutelage of our driver’s ed instructor, Mr. Wilke. On the deserted streets of our town of 2500, Mr. Wilke kept his foot ready to hit his set of brakes. I remember his sarcastic commentary of “Nice stop!” when I nearly sent us through the windshield.

Once I had plenty of experience (the parallel parking practice was great!), I spent my time driving to and from school on empty country roads. I was only 14 (the permit age in my state), but I was able to drive independently from dawn to dusk and I doubt my parents had a bit of anxiety about it. (They probably should have because one of my best friend’s and my favorite things to do was to drive 80 mph on hilly gravel roads and fish tail, but I digress).

My Permit Driver

Fast forward to today when I am the parent of a 15-year-old permit driver in a suburban area, living right off a major four-lane thoroughfare. My son has had his permit for six months and I keep finding very important things to do that don’t involve sitting in the seat next to him while he puts my life at risk. Psychologists say we will do something when the rewards for doing it outweigh the risks. Up until now, those risks have loomed large in my mind. Like I have never considered whether my passenger side air bag will really inflate until now. And I have wondered if my life insurance policy will really be enough to help my husband care for five kids (five because if my oldest kills me, my husband will kill him, even if he survives the wreck). I’ve worked with enough people who have disabilities to know that I don’t want to be merely maimed either.

But the rewards of allowing my son to drive have become larger for me. The constant requests for items (the toiletries seem to run out individually, never in groups), his need to be delivered to a fun location right when I am in the midst of something (you know, like caring for FIVE other kids), and the always entertaining necessity of picking him up at the time I should be entering REM sleep have added up to a willingness to get in the passenger seat with my permit driver.

His Driver’s Ed

My son has taken an online driver’s ed course (I wanted him to see terrifying videos of ruined lives following dumb driving decisions like I had to) and he knows our state laws, but there is no manual for me. This is what I want to know:

  1.  Should I take a major tranquilizer before getting in the passenger seat with him? I know my judgment will be impaired, but won’t I be able to relax in the face of all the near-accidents and won’t I be less prone to injury if we do crash?
  2. How am I supposed to be an encouragement to my inexperienced driver when he does things I haven’t seen a driver do since my Alzheimers-suffering mother-in-law was alive? I can tell you that saying “Good job!” right after screaming seems phony.
  3. Who is liable for any damage done? That Permit Driver sign in the back window isn’t keeping people from honking, I can tell you that. If he kills someone (I swear every foolish pedestrian and old, demented bike rider in town was on the road with us), will that be his fault or mine for not warning him?
  4. Why don’t I get to rent a car for free with a separate set of brakes and a steering wheel?
  5. Why aren’t the schools teaching him how to drive? As a homeschooler, this is the one skill I am fine with him learning WITHOUT ME.

As it is, I keep thinking I will let him drive more LATER. But since he will be 16 in six short months, I don’t know how we’ll find the time if I put it off. Why, you may ask, isn’t your husband teaching him? Well, it seems that he is even more anxious than I am. And the first time they drove together, there were a couple of little uh-ohs. I won’t elaborate to spare my son any embarrassment. Really, he’s doing great. I’m the one who’s not.


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