Teaching a kid to drive

– Mandy Nolan

Getting a drivers licence has become an adolescent rite of passage. In fact there’s an expectation that the afternoon of Sweet Sixteen is spent at the RTA. I believe that isn’t an acronym for the Road and Traffic Authority but rather what you are about to experience for the next year: Random Terror Affliction. L for Learner. L for Loser. L for Look here, I am not bloody ready for this!

I have sat in sweaty plastic chairs in the RTA waiting room nervous for the post-exam pronouncement for four of my five children. Each time, I hold my breath and hope for the best. “I got it!” Oh shit! I was hoping they’d fail. You know, failure builds resilience and all that. And it builds hope. Hope that I may survive the next week.  

Then I hug them and say, “Congratulations, darling.” Then the harping starts: “Can I drive home?” I’m in a lather of sweat. It’s their birthday—how can I say no? But what if we die on the way home? That’s a waste of a good cake waiting at home in the fridge. So I say: “Why don’t we drive around the car park for a bit.” Like that’s going to work. No, they’ve gone from zero to hero, and you’ve gone from driver to survivor! Congratulations, you are now a contestant on a new reality show, So You Think You Can Drive

There is no greater horror than being in the passenger seat next to your brand new learner driver. It’s like when they learn to walk. At least then the worst they could do was hit the table. Now they can hit the garage (five times). The letterbox (lost two of those). And the fence (twice). And everyone’s greatest fear: an oncoming vehicle (almost 300 times). Those first ten hours are so intense that I actually pulled the hand grip out of the roof of the car. I bit my lip so hard I started bleeding. By my third learner, I was wearing a helmet.

One of my daughters ran off the road. My son screamed at me for the first time. Another daughter just cried and called herself an idiot. Or was that me? There is no better way to test the love you share with your teen than to teach them to drive. If you can do that, you can do anything. I have taught four kids to drive. That’s 120 hours per child. Five hundred hours of my life spent in white-knuckled terror. When you have a learner, every hour on the road counts—especially when you’re one of those terrible parents who won’t “fake a few hours like my friend’s parents’ did”. My father died in a car accident. The thought of faking a few hours was inconceivable and honestly I rarely judge anyone, except people who fake their kids’ hours. How do you live with yourself? Probably in less anxiety than me, I guess.

My mum never taught me how to drive. It was NEVER spoken about. The dead dad thing (I was six when it happened) made it clear to me that my learning to drive was not mum’s gig. She just never brought it up. I had to teach myself. And by teach myself I mean I waited until I was in my twenties and I paid for a driving instructor. After failing four times because I couldn’t drive, I got my licence after a spectacular driving outing to the examiner’s office thirty kilometres away where my sundress popped while driving up a mountain range. It was like a scene in a Benny Hill movie! Both my boobs flew out, much to the thrill of my instructor. I took my hands off the wheel to make a ‘hand bra’ only to hear the refrain of my instructor: “Ten to two! Ten to two!” It was tits out for the next 10K. I got my licence, but I certainly couldn’t drive. 

When you’re not a very good driver yourself, teaching your kids to drive is even more challenging. “How do I reverse park?” they ask. “I don’t know. Go backwards and try not to hit anything. That’s what I do. Have a few cracks at it.” Apparently this is not acceptable in a test. It’s weird because I’ve been doing it for a few decades on the actual road. So I paid for an instructor. My eldest daughter broke him too.

About forty minutes into the lesson, while I’m in my yoga class, I get a text. It’s from a frantic instructor who informs me that Zoe drove through a roundabout without giving way so when he corrected her, she told him to “get fucked” and jumped out of the moving vehicle and ran away. He couldn’t find her. He said, “This has never happened before.” I text back: “Oh yeah, she doesn’t like criticism.” 

My kids did eventually get their licences, except for one, who lost interest at 112 hours. I was so relieved when they got their full licences! Then I realised: they would be driving alone now! No Mum to say don’t answer the phone! Don’t turn the music up! Oh no! Then the worst thing happened: my kids didn’t need me anymore. I found myself longing for those hours with the two of us trapped in the car, fighting. Those 120 hours with your teenager are not a punishment. They are a privilege. Enjoy every one of them and don’t fake them because in a few months from now they’ll drive off without you.

This Mandy Nolan opinion piece is from issue 15 of Lunch Lady magazine, you can buy the issue in our shop HERE. For more great content follow us on Instagram HERE and Facebook HERE

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