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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scotch, Anyone?

Here’s what they don’t tell you. When you bring a doughy newborn home from the hospital (or in our case the adoption agency—but you know what I mean), agonizing during the one-hour ride that her car seat isn’t adjusted correctly—when you change that first messy diaper with hands that don’t know how, and run to the bassinet every time you hear a grunt, staying awake all night to make sure that baby’s still breathing—in the middle of all this, you cannot fathom, cannot ever-in-your-wildest-dreams imagine—that one day you will sit in a car beside this child as a not-in-control passenger, while she learns how to drive.

Yep, we did it and the good news is we’re still talking to each other.

I have bad memories of driving lessons. The one that sticks out is perching behind the wheel with my mom riding shotgun, on a trip to get Dad from the train. When she took issue (correctly) with how far away from the curb I had parked (about six feet), hot head that I was, I slammed the car door and stalked home. Mothers and daughters—it’s not always pretty.

Recalling that, when our daughter obtained her newly minted learner’s permit last month, I suggested that it might be best for both of us if she started her driving lessons with her dad. The problem is, he works in a different state, doesn’t get home until late, and crams yard work and sailing into the weekend. They’ve had Sunday morning sessions in an abandoned church parking lot and the quiet neighborhoods surrounding it, and she’s done well—but she needs more exposure and I’m the one around to give it to her.

Drat. If I had a job, I’d have an excuse.

JK. Practice is key I know, so the last two Sundays, I zippered my mouth, crawled into the back seat and observed their driving lessons—in theory—to get a perspective of how well she is doing and therefore the confidence to drive alone with her. Consequently, when she asked for a turn at the helm yesterday, I had no good reason to decline, unless you want to count unmitigated fear. It figures that I swallowed my Tuesday cup of coffee minutes prior to her request, so that even before climbing into the car, my hands were shaking.

To be perfectly frank, I’m a jumpy passenger no matter who is in control and on top of that my acting skills leave a lot to be desired. Knowing this, as we pulled into the beach parking lot where I was to hand over the keys, I prayed: “Dear God, please don’t let her know how scared I am.” Humph. Apparently, God had other things going on. That said, other than the multiple “I know, Moms,” the parking lot was fine—and too soon in my book, it was time to take to the street.

Ah, our streets. You know about the ledges in our yard, but have I ever mentioned that the name of our town comes from a Native American word meaning “Long Rocky Place?” The longest ridge towers on both sides of the curving road that we were forced to drive down, when, just my luck, the wider alternative was detoured. Even when I’m driving, claustrophobia lines this byway—with her at the wheel I swear the cliffs squeezed closer. Ridiculous as it sounds, it’s a street often populated with walkers and bike riders—many of whom choose to travel with their backs to oncoming traffic. Cars are regularly forced to veer over the center line—the expression “drive defensively” was coined for this stretch. While she tried to get a grip on that term, I maintained my grip on the arm rest, digging half-moons into gray vinyl while struggling to appear calm; “Up ahead is a blind curve, go slow because you don’t know what might be on the other side.”

Is it OK to admit that at one point, I closed my eyes?

Gulp. She made it though the row of exposed manhole covers popping around the town common and inched her way up to take the obstructed-view turn in front of the Art Center. Gripping the steering wheel, she exhaled as a dump truck passed her on the “grandfathered” less-than-legal-width bridge on our road, then pulled into our driveway to park halfway between each door of the two-car garage. Turning to face me, she smiled as she said: “I’m going to tell Dad that you are just as nervous a passenger with me as you are with him.”

No duh. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I walked into the house wishing I could reach for a drink.