While She Was Driving

May 14, 2010 at 7:12 am 1 comment

© Sue Black

I didn’t know when my daughter was a beautiful bundle of joy, with strawberry blond hair that curled into ringlets and the roundest cheeks that dimpled when she smiled, that she would grow up to be a teenager. When she still had that brand new baby smell, how could I imagine that angry glares followed by slamming doors were just around the corner for me?
Oh, I knew other families had teenagers, and teenager problems, but I was going to raise my children right. It wouldn’t happen at my house, certainly not with my youngest daughter, not with my baby, not with my Lizzy.
I didn’t know that little girl I held in my arms would leave me long before she ever moved out.
It started when she asked me not to kiss her in front of her friends; it was way too embarrassing. Then she decided she couldn’t sit in my lap anymore; I held her too tight and I wouldn’t let her go. Before I knew it Lizzy didn’t need my cookies or my hugs. She no longer wanted me to volunteer to be the room mom or Girl Scout leader. Not long after that she asked me not to come upstairs at bedtime and sit on the edge of her bed. She said she’d rather listen to the radio and read at the end of the day. And at dinnertime, if I would keep my advice, my questions, and my lectures to myself she would be able to eat in peace.
In the summer of Lizzy’s 15th year, on a day when the sun was shining brightly out of a blue sky, a much anticipated letter arrived in the mail. Tucked inside of the envelope was Lizzy’s driving permit from the state of Illinois. Lizzy looked at the driving permit with a huge smile; then she read the accompanying letter with a frown. You see, it looked like Lizzy was going to need —— me ——  so that she could log the required 25 hours of behind the wheel driving practice before she would be allowed to obtain her driver’s license.
I was going to get one more chance to be a mom. I decided not to gloat and instead I would let my daughter think I was only teaching her to drive.
“C’mon Mom!” Lizzy had the keys in one hand, her learner’s permit in the other, and the eagerness in her eyes lit up her face.  She raced out the door and slipped behind the wheel of the car, starting it up right away. She was already doing the important stuff – finding the right radio station and turning up the volume.
As I found my place on the passenger’s side, fastened my seatbelt and subtly made sure she had too, I told her about my first driving lesson with my dad. “Grandpa Below took a navy blue bandana out of his back pocket, tied it over his eyes so he couldn’t see a thing, and told me he was ready to go.” Lizzy didn’t even roll her eyes at that story; she just continued to smile with her hands gripping the steering wheel. “C’mon, Mom, don’t worry, I’m sure I’m already a good driver.”
I had to admit she looked like she knew what she was doing. Getting ready to back the car out of the garage, she had checked the mirrors, her arm was on the seatback, she was turned in her seat so that she could see through the rear window behind the car, and she had just begun to move her foot from the brake to the gas pedal. “Wait!” I shouted.
“C’mon Mom, (whining) we haven’t even started yet.” She said.
I tried to remain calm as I explained that she needed to point herself in the right direction, get in gear so to speak, if she hoped to get where she wanted to go in life. She looked pretty clueless, so then I told her she needed to take the car out of drive and put it in reverse in order to get it safely out of the garage.
When we finished that first driving lesson I had Lizzy park the car in the driveway; I told her I would put it in the garage later. She rushed into the kitchen, tore the log sheet off of the refrigerator, and filled in the first line at the top of the page – one hour of driving, done.
Most of Lizzy’s friends were already driving so she would see them in their cars as we were out practicing. Of course she needed to wave to them, so after awhile she figured it was just easier to leave that one arm kind of hanging out the window so her waving hand was always at the ready. But if a cute guy was in one of those approaching cars she would quickly draw that arm in, switch hands on the wheel, freeing up the right hand to do a finger comb of her hair and then she would check herself in the mirror. As long as her right hand was free, she decided to find a new station on the radio, turn up the volume, and then rummage through the bottom of her purse looking for a fresh piece of gum. When she found the new gum, she had to take the old gum out of her mouth, wrap it in the paper from the new gum, and find the trash bag in the car. My foot was pumping up and down on the invisible brake on my side of the car.
“Lizzy, if you focus on doing one thing at a time, you’ll do it well.”
“Ah, c’mon Mom.” (scoffing this time)
Four way stops are always tricky, especially for female drivers. We want to ignore the rules of the road and be polite; we’re always thinking we’re making a new friend by waving and signaling the other car to go first. It’s hard to know exactly what to tell a new driver. So I opted for, “Look both ways, Liz, and then look both ways again; you never know what’s around the corner that might surprise you.” I thought I was being subtle. And then just for good measure, I added “Don’t go so fast when you start out, Lizzy; you can accelerate gently and ease into new situations.” We were about half way through our 25 hour ordeal at that point.
“C’mon Mom.” (teeth clenched tightly, therefore, barely able to speak)
We decided to go for a ride in the country – fewer cars, fewer distractions, maybe a little less stress. We made a day of it, stopping for lunch along the way. We both liked these days when we piled on lots of driving hours. I was enjoying the ride. The corn in the fields was nearly ready for picking, the cows were waiting for the afternoon milking, Lizzy and I had not yet exchanged angry words.
I pointed to an intersection up ahead and told Liz to turn right. Then I turned to look out the window again. It wasn’t until that moment when the car was making a quick 360 degree turn and I heard the screeching of our tires, then the screeching of tires behind us followed by a loud blast of a horn, the gravel that lined the shoulder of the road was bouncing and pinging against the underside of the car, that I fell back into mommy-driver mode and started pumping that invisible brake on my side of the car. When that didn’t work, I started shouting “What are you doing? You’ve got to decide how fast it’s safe to go before you spin out of control!”
Lizzy just gave me one of those looks, like it was all my fault. “There was a semi truck right behind me, Mom. He would have gotten mad at me and honked if I had slowed down! C’mon Mom (incredulous, drawn-out emphasis on those last two words). What’d ya expect me to do?”
It took a couple of days for my daughter to convince me to go out with her again. She kept checking her watch the entire time we were out driving. She drove home much sooner than I had expected. The moment she pulled into the driveway Lizzy jumped out of the car and started to run toward the house.  She didn’t seem to care that I was in mid-sentence. “Wait, where are you going? I didn’t finish telling you about all of the different warning signs along the road; there are other things to watch out for, you know! Come back, I’m not done!!”
But my daughter was. The lines on that paper hanging on the refrigerator were filled.
Those 25 hours of driving were completed.
A few weeks later she asked me to drive with her one more time; she was in a hurry. “C’mon Mom! Today’s the day!” It was her 16th birthday and she had to get her driver’s license. At the counter, a stranger asked her to step away from me and smile, and then he took her picture. The stranger handed her a small plastic card and told her “You’re good to go, ready to roll, all set; you’re in the driver’s seat now!”
She looked at her driver’s license and beamed with pride, smiling at that stranger and then at me. She could see I was trying not to cry, so she touched me and asked, “You gonna be all right? C’mon Mom, I’ll drive you home.”
As Lizzy led the way, I thought she looked different. I caught a glimpse of the wonderful young woman she had become.
You know, if anyone down the road asks me how she turned out so beautifully, I’ll tell them…..

It was while she was driving.

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Entry filed under: Living Out Loud.

Hello Beautiful Student Storytellers

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Debra Morningstar  |  May 21, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Lizzy grew into a wonderful young woman BECAUSE of the wonderful mother, teacher and guardian Angel she was blessed with!!

    Sue, your story brought me to tears!
    Thank you!

    Deb :-)

    Reply

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