Driver’s Ed

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter Shannon got her driver’s license, wrapping up a six month adventure of driving lessons, parking lessons, laughter, tears, and talking (or not talking) in the car. I wanted to revisit my blog to not only thank the village of folks that helped get us to this milestone, but also share some of the hilarity of the journey.

To begin with, we felt that in the spirit of good parenting, she should drive an old car. Because Joe and I were not handed a brand new set of car keys when we got our licenses, we wanted to pass along the love to our daughter, you know, for character building. (And, yeah, we don’t have money to buy her a new car.) I originally drove my mom’s yellow Chevy Citation, which had only AM radio, was not in any way a luxury car, and I’m pretty sure was most definitely a lemon, considering how often it broke down.

Queue the mission to “make sure the Jeep Cherokee is in good shape.” Joe, being the handy guy that he is, has had this car for a few years, and diligently fixed most problems himself, replaced the entire engine a couple of years ago, and if it made a noise, well, he figured out what it was, (mostly).   So……let’s just say it still had some problems. We spent (insert a comma and a few zeros here…) to overhaul a lot of it, but it still had some of those “old car” quirks. Since I began doing most of the “practice” driving with Shannon, I would try to not jump uncomfortably when I heard a bang coming from the back of the car. We shall call this Problem #1. 

What was that??! Shannon exclaimed. Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing. [Bangs again]….Uh, OK, let’s pull over for a second. [Calls Joe.] Conversation goes as follows:

A: UH, there is a terrible banging noise coming from the back right of the  car when we go over any bumps. Is the tire going to fall off?

J: No, I’ve looked at this, there’s nothing wrong. Don’t worry about it. 

A: OK, we’ll keep going. Are you sure?

J: Yep, I’m sure. I’ll figure it out, but it’s totally fine. 

A: OK, we’ll keep going…(to Shannon) – go slowly over bumps. 

We keep driving. The noise, thankfully, seems to subside as we get off the bumpier road, and also the longer we are in the car. I begin to breathe normally again.

Problem #2: The “check engine” light was continually on. Joe tried to fix this, to no avail. We paid mechanic #1 to fix it, but it kept coming back on. Joe googled it, and tried everything that was suggested. But it was persistently still on. This leads to:

Problem #3: We can’t get the car inspected if the light is on. The car must have passed inspection, or she can’t take the test in it. See where I’m going with this. This leads us to mechanic #2, who assures Joe that they will fix it, AND inspect the car once it’s off. Hurrah! We are home free, (I think).

So, folks, this is where the fun starts. For those of you who know Joe, he is a man who needs a deadline. Shannon’s test was scheduled for a Monday morning in mid-December. He had the car at mechanic #2 the week before she was scheduled to take the test.

On FRIDAY, they tell him that they got the engine light to turn off, but when they restarted the car, IT CAME BACK ON. So they can’t pass it for inspection. They assure Joe that it will  go off, but he has to drive it around to get it to reset itself. OK, fine, but meanwhile he is at work, and will be working overnight Friday into Saturday. Which means that we only have until noon Saturday to get the car to an inspection station, or Shannon cannot take the test as scheduled on Monday.

I try not to freak out. Really. On Saturday morning, he gets home from work at 8:30am, and says he’s going to just go drive around. I begin texting friends and family who may know how to help, pleading for advice. The last time we had it go off for any period of time, it was raining. I tell him: Pour water on the engine. He kind of listened to me – and went through the car wash. Which worked! 

Made it through inspection with maybe a half hour to spare. This left time on Sunday for practicing parallel parking and a brief drive through the driver’s testing course.

Monday came, the day had arrived. Shannon and I drove to the test, which is about 20 minutes away from our house. A nice young man comes out to the car to greet us, and I hand over all the paperwork, except….we don’t have her passport. Oh. My. God. I ask…can we come back? He says: Yes – just be back within two hours and you’ll be good. 

Off we go – back home to get the passport. It’s extra driving practice, I say.

Fast forward to the end of the test, and unfortunately, Shannon hit a cone on the second attempt at Parallel parking, which is an automatic fail. The man administering the test told her she was too far away from the curb the first time, made her do it again, and then he waved at me across the driving course for me to come out and meet them there. (Which I thought was really weird.)  But OK, we schedule another test for two weeks later during Christmas break.

There were a few tears, she was not terribly comforted by the fact that I, too, failed my first time (and for parallel parking!!)  Do I have to go to school now? She asked. Yes. I said.

For the next week and a half (before we were out of town after Christmas) – we were on mission #2 to make sure she could pass parallel parking. Joe looked up the exact dimensions of the parking space. He brought giant cones home and we put wooden dowels in them, and set up the space in front of our house. (Nice perk of living on a non-through street…) Joe spent a couple of hours with her, some tears were shed. He’s mean. She tells me.

There are moments in life when you know that you are not the best person to teach your child. This was one of those moments. I know that Joe was most certainly not mean, but there are emotions that run between family members that just don’t with people not related to you. After spending the evening with a good friend lamenting the horrors of parellel parking, we wisely engaged the help of John Baer, a very dear friend who has known Shannon her whole life, to teach her. I can do it in 20 minutes, he said. OK, we said!

Two days before Christmas, he generously gave up a couple of hours of his time to help her (and us) out. At the end of that time, she was starting to figure out how to correct herself if it was going wrong, there were no tears shed, and she didn’t run to her room yelling: I will never get in the car again! I considered this a huge success. He also provided some classroom instruction.


Take 2 on the Driving Test. What if I fail again? She asks. You won’t. I say. It was a very quiet drive to the DMV.

This time we are so prepared. We pull up to the stop sign at the start of the course, passport in hand, paperwork in order, and off she goes. I try not to watch through the window of the little building where I wait. I see the car go by as she starts on the course. As she gets to the parallel parking space, I peer around the wall. I think: Looks good, she hasn’t hit any cones, she is going slowly, angle is right, straightening out…” The car stops. I get ready to go out the door in case I am waved to run across the driving course. Nothing happens. The car stays put.  Then I see her start to pull out of the parking space to execute her “K turn” and I try not to pump my fist in the air and yell YESSS!!!! YEESSSS!!!!! I calmly walk outside the building, looking ever-so nonchalant, waiting for her to finish the course. The nice guy gets out of the car and gives me the thumbs up, and encouragingly adds:  She nailed it! 

As I walked towards the car, I couldn’t help but give a little Gene Kelly click of the heels, a la Singing in the Rain, to which Shannon shook her head at me probably thinking, Good lord, Mom. But she was smiling!

To all the people that supported us, responded to my texts about the stupid Check Engine light, boosted Shannon’s spirits, and joked about getting off the road when she got her license, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We couldn’t have done it without you. And if you want to get off the road, or move to another State, now is the time.


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