My name is Gina.
And I’m a survivor.
Not a scary illness survivor.
Not a contestant on the show “Survivor,” as I could never dine on bugs or parade around in my bathing suit (I’d rather not survive than do that).
I’m a driving instructor survivor. Or to be more specific, a survivor of teaching my 18-year-old anxiety-ridden daughter how to drive.
I’ll admit this wasn’t my first new-driver rodeo. In my illustrious imperfect parental career, I helped my older daughter, with visual spatial issues and ADHD, get her license (rumor has it I just missed being named “Time” magazine’s “Woman of the Year” for this feat).
But this… this was pushing myself to new and unknown limits — teaching a child who has always feared all things unpredictable in life.
“Mom look at this weather map! We’re getting a tornado! We’re all gonna die!!!”
“Emmy, Honey, that tornado is in Topeka, Kansas. We live in Massachusetts.”
What’s more I had to teach her how to drive in one of the most unpredictable driving regions in the country (they don’t call Massachusetts’ drivers “Massholes” for nothing).
Driven to succeed.
Her anxiety was one of the reasons she was in no rush to get her license. It wasn’t until she turned 18 and started applying to cosmetology schools that she realized it was time.
“Mom, I think I’m ready to get my license.”
So, I signed her up for driving school, dug out my rosary beads, and eventually took her out in the car to begin her lessons.
Her initial struggles with unpredictability were real.
“Why is the sun shining in the car; I can’t see!”
“Why does UPS have to deliver that package now?”
With time, practice, and several thousand novenas (thank you St. Christopher), she learned to navigate uncertainties and build her confidence as a driver. I even learned to deal with my own anxieties in a constructive way.
“Mom, please put the holy water away! I think you got it in my eye.”
Before I knew it, she became a good driver, and I found myself worrying less during our driving sessions.
A test of courage.
When the day came for her to take her driving test, I knew she was ready, though she had major doubts and anxiety.
“What if the Registry guy is mean?”
“What if I can’t find the defroster?”
“What if a sinkhole opens up on the street and swallows the car?” (a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point).
I grabbed her face in my hands, looked her straight in the eye, and said three words that surprisingly weren’t “God. Help. Us”; I said “You. Got. This.” And deep in my heart, I knew she did.
I wasn’t wrong. She passed her test with flying colors. I couldn’t have been more proud.
7 Imperfect parent driving survival tips
I learned 7 valuable lessons teaching my daughter to drive, which I have shared below:
- Start in the driveway. Parked. This excellent piece of advice came from education consultant, Cynthia DeAngelis, who instructed us to practice starting the car in the driveway. While in park, we also practiced switching from brake to gas pedal, increasing speed, and signaling. By the time we were actually ready to drive, my daughter had her footwork down and we had logged 40 hours of practice (just kidding).
- Find an empty parking lot. On my daughter’s first real run, I took her to an empty industrial park. The company that once operated there made a wise decision to move as we surely would have killed all their employees.
- Keep the passenger side window up. Otherwise, you’ll end up with tree branch scratches on your face as your new driver struggles to keep the car from veering to the right.
- Pray. God and I talked a lot during our lessons. If you’re not a person of faith, bring along rabbit’s feet or trolls (they seem to be popular on the Bingo circuit).
- Pay for extra driving lessons. If your child needs extra practice, let the professionals handle it (after all they have their own brakes). It may cost you more, but will save your sanity.
- Visit graveyards. They provide an excellent venue for your child to practice turning and driving on narrow roads. More importantly, it’s impossible for your child to kill people who have already died. #winning
- Build confidence. Praise your child for the things they do correctly (“Great job, Honey. You didn’t hit any mailboxes today”) and give them constructive suggestions on ways to improve. (“Great job remembering your turn signal, but next time, try signaling BEFORE you make the turn.”)
By following these simple lessons, you just might end up like me — with a proud and licensed driver and a closer relationship with God (we talk every time she goes out to drive).