The Driver’s Seat

One morning, quite out of the blue, my nearly-16-year-old daughter asked if we could find a parking lot so she could practice driving. We drove to a nearby suburb, where we parked in the vacant lot of a sprawling college campus. Soon we’d switched places — she had positioned herself squarely behind the steering wheel, while I got comfortable on the passenger side. The butterflies I’d felt in my stomach while driving us to the lot had vanished.

Put the car into drive, and slowly release your foot from the brake pedal. Feel the vehicle move gently forward as you keep both hands on the wheel. Turn slightly to the right, and feel the vehicle move in the same direction. 

The first time I sat behind the wheel happened long ago — during an era that did not emphasize seatbelt laws or infant car seats. My father had an old red Corvair, and he loved putting his toddler-age daughter on his lap as he drove. Goodness only knows what he was thinking, but I’m happy that we managed the adventures — limited, thankfully, to smooth rides on the open, deserted road — without incident.

I didn’t actually learn to drive until I was 30. Growing up, I was bothered by the way the adults around me seemed to turn nasty and tense behind the wheel. My own father — the same man who calmly sat a 3-year-old on his lap while driving rural highways — could become rather impulsive and aggressive when navigating the city streets during rush hour.

A friend once told me that learning to drive means taking control of your life. I’m already looking forward to the next time my daughter and I trade places in a wide, open lot.

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