One major source of anxiety for me lately has been driving. Despite the fact that I'm seventeen, for reasons connected both to my parents' overprotective tendencies and to misfortunes that have befallen me personally, I didn't even acquire a learner's permit until late fall. I have taken my required driving lessons with a professional instructor. What remains is for me to drive with a licensed adult driver until at least six months after the date I first received my learner's permit.
Driving with a parent is an enthralling adventure for everyone involved. I am willing to go on the record as saying that riding with me is not a peaceful and relaxing experience for anyone who has the misfortune of being in a car with me while I am behind the wheel. Most people my age have had actual driving experience, albeit illegal, long before they actually undertake the formal and informal instruction leading to a driver's license. My only prior driving experience was behind the wheel of the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe that my brother and I co-owned before we were even old enough for pre-school. Some of the skills that are needed to successfully navigate a vehicle through traffic to a destination come only with experience, which I do not have in my favor. (Since my brother already has his license, there's probably no longer much real risk in divulging that he's been operating motor vehicles on my uncle's dairy since he was about eight years old. What my parents thought was a boy taking to driving much as a duck takes to water was more correctly the fruit of many hours behind the wheels of pickup trucks and miscellaneous farm vehicles. Whether it was because of his male chauvinism or common sense, my uncle never extended the same privilege to me.)
I completed my driving lessons with a professional instructor more or less without incident. Then came the time for me to drive with Mom or Dad. The first parent to have the white-knuckle experience of riding with me was my mom. She recounted the ordeal, sparing no detail, to my dad, who concluded that she must surely have been exaggerating. My dad then volunteered to serve as my driving supervisor. It took about ten minutes for him to conclude that my mother had grossly understated the ineptitude of my driving ability in order to delude him into agreeing to take over my driving instruction. My parents then arrived at the solution of both parents riding in the car while I drove. They soon realized that, under this plan of action, three-quarters of our nuclear family could easily be eradicated from the face of the planet in one fell swoop, leaving my brother Matthew to fend for himself with admirable driving skills but with an otherwise dim wit.
My parents' next strategy was to take turns riding along as I honed my driving skills. My dad always took me to the over-sized parking lot of a former mega-church whose pastor had scandalously carried on an extra-marital affair with the church's Director of Christian Education. The end result was a church parking lot that my dad would have felt practically safe riding through with me at the wheel at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. My dad hedged his bets even further by driving with me on weekday afternoons, when not a soul could be found in the parking lot or on the premises. My mom -- always the bolder or at least the more fatalistic of the two -- ventured onto public roadways, but only while tightly clutching her rosary and mumbling inaudible Hail Mary's anytime she wasn't shrieking at me.
My parents would probably tell you that my problem wasn't a lack of caution. Too much caution can make a driver every bit as dangerous as blind overconfidence combined with reckless abandon. My natural tendency is to be so concerned about the dog, child, or cement mixer a quarter-mile ahead of me that I don't notice the stop sign immediately in front of me. My previously youthful-appearing (appearances can be deceiving; they're in their late forties) parents were aging before my eyes.
The driving situation, in addition to everything else that plagues me at this juncture of my life, was causing me incredible anxiety. I recognize that I cannot achieve full independence from my parents without the ability to drive. The way my mind deals with this is to cause me to have horrific "red asphalt" dreams. For this reason, the staff at my facility chose to address the problem.
The first course of action was to order additional professional lessons for me. I took sixteen lessons beyond the original six I was required to complete. The next step was for me to drive with the director of the facility. I've driven with him four times. When my dad heard about this, he said the director, who is a friend of his from the dinosaur days when they were in medical school together, is clearly insane; it's a classic case, my dad said, of shrinks being every bit as wacked as the people they purport to treat. Because the director is male, it would be highly imprudent for him to be in a car with me by ourselves, so even though it is expanding the axis of endangerment by fifty per cent, a third individual, an adult female, must be included in the operation.
I am actually learning to drive this way. My new driving instructor says that I will be ready for the behind-the-wheel exam by mid-spring. Just thinking about it inspires a whole new slate of "red asphalt" dreams, but some things in life must be done. For me, driving is one of those things.