(Bitter) Sweet 16: Surviving the (First Few) Drives

Since my 16-year-old daughter Maddi got her driver’s license permit last month, I’ve entered uncharted territory. I’m supposed to patiently (yeah, um, sure) teach my teen daughter how to drive. I think I’d rather scrub the bathroom every night of the week than argue with my headstrong teen on how close she really was to that parked car. (I’m telling you, it was close!)

I took her to a big church parking lot when it wasn’t busy over a few evenings. Basically, she got her feel for the gas and brakes and I showed her where things were located in the vehicle. She immediately wanted to use two feet to drive and I nipped that right in the bud. All in all, the first few lessons were not too bad. Plus, she realized, “This driving thing is a lot harder than I thought. I’m scared.” GOOD! I’d rather her be nervous than overconfident right now.

Now all I hear is, “Mom, will you take me driving?” And I cringe. It’s not that I mind taking her, but it’s just one more thing to add to my already really long to-do list. But I know I’m going to have to find time to fit in all this driving practice because in Pennsylvania, you have to log at least 65 hours of supervised behind-the-wheel practice.

“OMG, there’s a van behind me!”

Fast forward a couple lessons, where Maddi and I venture out onto the road…with actual cars. I’m not going to lie, I was tightly gripping the passenger-side door handle. She’s doing okay – a lot of lurching at the stop signs, but she’ll work that out in time.

We’re driving around a neighborhood and she takes a wrong turn toward the main road. She isn’t ready for that yet, so I tell her to pick a driveway and turn around. She pulls into one, and, of course, the van behind us is waiting to pull into which driveway? Yep, the driveway we’re in.

She immediately gets nervous, admitting, “I can’t remember which way to turn the wheel when I back out.” (If you think about it, it’s a tricky concept to master.) I instruct her while reaching over to help.

Instead of hitting the brake as she backs up, she accidentally hits the gas, which makes us lunge toward the mailbox. We narrowly miss it.

“Stop!” I yell. “Get out of the car. I’ll back out so these people can get in their driveway.”

Maddi is mortified at this point. She refuses to get out of the car and says she will just slide over. So I get out of the car, wave at the woman in the minivan and very matter-of-factly say, “Teen driver.” She gives me the nod and I know she totally gets it. The whole way home, my daughter is carrying on about how I embarrassed her. I must’ve missed something.

“And you are so mean, why do you keep yelling at me?”

I calmly explain that I’m not yelling at her. But when she is going too fast or is driving a little too close to oncoming traffic, yes, I may panic. And I most certainly will get louder. She tries to debate me, but a truck is coming.

“Just focus,” I say. And once again I realize why I’m not a teacher.

Watch for more updates from Maddi and me on our learning-to-drive journey in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are some helpful tips for parents of teen drivers and a list of smartphone apps that can help reduce distracted driving.

Read the next installment of this series.

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