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Marriage in the Long Run
Lessons better taught by Dad

As the women married to professional drivers, we often have to take responsibility for a few things that we would prefer to let our husbands assume. For some of those chores they are just better equipped to handle the responsibility than we are. Since I was the one doing the potty training, for example, our son didn't learn until much later that a boy's anatomy allows him to stand. That's a chore better suited for a male teacher.

One other lesson that is better left to my husband is teaching our son how to drive. After all, he is a professional driver. Here I am, a writer who is instructing a teenager how to downshift when turning a corner.

I'll admit that I am not the best driver in this family. Although I haven't received a ticket since I was 18 years old, that's not a reflection of my driving skills. It means that I learned how to talk my way out of a citation. When our son accompanies me in the family van, I remind him to not observe how I drive, especially when I am in a hurry and that old farmer down the road is taking his time on the back roads again.

Our "15-years-and-10-months-old" son recently obtained his learner's permit and now wants to practice behind the wheel. He bought a little pickup truck with the money he'd been saving from the wages he earns at his part-time grocery store job. The pickup has a stick shift, which is a good way to learn, but a harder way to start. The grocery store itself is situated at the bottom of a steep hill, and the traffic light at the top requires good shifting skills so the engine doesn't kill when the light turns green.

So, here we have an eager-to-drive teenager with a mom who is better at writing than driving

So, here we have an eager-to-drive teenager with a mom who is better at writing than driving. Although I am not an easily excitable person, the first time we turned a corner I instructed him to "tap the brake." I continued to repeat, "tap the brake, tap the brake." I finally got his attention while he was turning the corner at 35 miles per hour by yelling, "Slam the brake, now!" We almost ended up in a cornfield, but we managed to come to a stop before the culvert. On to the next lesson.

My husband makes his daily call home and asks how things are going. Then, when I tell him how the lessons are progressing, he likes to make comments regarding my instructions. "Yes, I told him to take it out of gear before he turns a corner, I was going to teach him how to ease it down to second as he makes the curve during our next session," I report. "No, no, no," I am told, "never take it out of gear when turning." (Remember, he's the professional.) I agree, it's just that there's so much to learn and I was taking it one step at a time.

The next piece of advice I am told is to let our son drive the mini van. After all, it has an automatic transmission and he can concentrate on other things besides maneuvering a clutch and a stick. You can imagine our son's desire to be seen driving the family vehicle. So, we decide that we will work more on the entire learning experience in his own pickup before Dad gets home.

My husband grew up on a farm, so he never really had to learn how to drive a car with his mom or dad sitting in the passenger seat. By the time he was 16 he could operate almost any vehicle, whether it had a standard transmission or not. (Did they make automatics when he was that young?) No wonder he has driven more than 20 years without a chargeable accident, and boasts a clean record. Operating a motor vehicle is easy for him.

Before my husband returns from this trip, we're going to have a few hours of driving recorded. Our son can practice shifting, operating the clutch, using turn signals and becoming familiar with the road in his own pickup. I'll sit in the passenger seat and calmly remind him to tap the brake when he's going too fast. I won't laugh when he kills the engine at a stop sign, and I'll tell him how to downshift when he turns a corner. When my husband gets home, he can take our son out driving. Then, when he's back to work and I'm the one in the passenger seat again, I'll remind our son to, "drive the way your father tells you to drive, even if it contradicts what I say... after all, he's the professional driver!" (And I'm the writer.)

March/April
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