When I was 16-years-old I got my driver’s license. You must understand this was a complete fluke, a miracle, a minor act of God that allowed me to pull into the DMV and pull away Maine’s newest licensed driver.
On the way there my mother told me, “You’re never gonna get it.” Of course, she didn’t start out the trip like that. She started out like every other normal mom taking her kid to get her license. Mom’s mistake was thinking I should do a few last minute parallel parking attempts before we went in.
I did eleven.
And out of those eleven I think maybe only one of them was passable. I hit the curb, a trash can, another parked car, and a pedestrian or two.
I was awful.
Now for the backstory. You should know that my mother was also my driver’s ed instructor. Yep, while most children were rebelling against their parents in normal ways when they were 15 or 16 (not taking out the trash, forgetting to do the dishes, letting the cat litter clump), I was practicing how to become a dangerous driver because my mother kept shouting, “Keep your hands at ten and two! Nine and three! Check your mirrors! Go slow! Slower!”
Plus, she had a brake on her side of the car. Just when I got up some good speed she’d tap on her brake and there I was, slowing down again. Isn’t that just the way of it?
Parents. Always ruining your good time, am I right?
So Mom wasn’t wrong in what she’d said, because really, I was terrible at taking direction. Plus, I went to Florida for a week halfway through the class and missed fundamental instructions like: Come to a complete stop at stop signs and stop lights. Do not come to a complete stop while merging onto the interstate.
You’d think those rules of the road would be intuitive, but for me they were right up there with algebra II — preposterous.
Regardless, on the day of my road test I went slow. I kept my windshield wipers on even though the rain had stopped 20 minutes before I even rolled out of the parking lot. I cautiously used my turn signals, scanned the road attentively, and for whatever reason, performed the most perfect parallel parking job of my life before and since.
Somehow, I managed to convince the very nice, middle-aged man beside me that I would at least make for a cautious driver if not a skilled one, and he congratulated me upon exiting the car.
I remember the look on my mother’s face as I flashed her a grin and said, “I did it!”
Her open-mouthed gasp had a bit of righteous anger, disbelief, and the beginning of denial in it, but I’m not sure I picked up on all of this then.
Why not? Because I was flying high on proving her wrong.
Fast forward 26 years to this past week when I took my oldest daughter for her first road test.
She took the driver’s ed class later than most and suffered more than a bit of embarrassment while getting picked up and dropped off at all of her sports practices. Sometimes, instead of pulling up to the field, I’d have to park down the block and let her walk because of the sheer humiliation of having her mother drive her around at the ripe old age of 17.
Anticipating this day, I began to feel as if I’d come full circle somehow. I’d become my mother. She’d become me. I was in a weird sort of dance I wasn’t used to leading.
There was just no way this kid was gonna get it on the first try.
Most of me wanted my husband to take her. Why? I didn’t want history to repeat itself. I had a fear if there was any time to spare between our arrival and when her test began that I’d suggest we go through some more last-minute attempts at parallel parking.
And I knew as sure as Shakespeare that I have more than a fair amount of my mother in me. How could I not say to her, “Girl, there’s just no way you’re going to come away from this with your license. Accept defeat.”
I didn’t want to say what my mom said because if I’m writing about it this long after the fact then it must’ve had some sort of traumatic effect on me, right? Or maybe I’m just dramatic.
At any rate, the guilt got to me. That afternoon I juggled some classes and appointments and sent my husband a message, “Pray for us.”
I knew I had to prove that I could remain positive. I could be hopeful and energetic in the face of certain disappointment. I could give this to her. I could try and say the things I know my mother still wishes she’d said to me that morning.
We spent much of the ride in silence. I wasn’t overly positive nor overly negative. I was just there. Present.
“Hey, let’s just see what happens. You’re just out for a drive. You got a ton of time between now and college, so if you don’t get it, hey, no skin off our noses. We got a whole summer to practice.”
When we arrived the man who came out of the office looked like his belt was up to his neck. His clipboard was windexed and so were his shoes, and I just knew this didn’t bode well.
Our car barely passed muster even though my husband had just changed one of the headlights the night before, and we’d done a deep clean. (Side note: the horn died on the way home.) Anyway, this guy looked like he was keeping a couple quarters between his cheeks, and I didn’t have a good feeling about her wide turns.
As they pulled away I did some pacing. I walked around that building I don’t know how many times, up and down, around and around and I thought, “This must be how Mom felt.”
Nervous for me, sad already, not knowing how to deal with my hurt but hoping she could deal with my hurt.
Around the corner, there was an ice cream shop and even for a vegan, they must have some dairy-free options. I was ready to hit that creamery hard as soon as she gave me the look.
When she pulled back into the parking lot and hopped out of the car I held my breath and looked away for a while eager to avoid her pain, but then, she flashed me that megawatt smile and a thumbs up.
And that was when I knew the circle was complete.
Mother doubts. Daughter proves her wrong. Daughter emerges victorious. Mother looks on in stunned disbelief.
Here’s the thing. Just yesterday we bought my parents old Buick for my daughter. They purchased a new car and were looking to offload the old one. It reminded me so much of the Buick they bought me when I was in college, my first car, I knew it would be perfect for her.
Those Buicks are like titanium in a crash, and that’s exactly what I want surrounding her every moment she’s on the road without me.
Whether my daughter ends up driving it or not, something feels so right about her and I riding around in my mom’s car. I think it’s because of what it stands for, what we pass down to our children, literally and figuratively.
So much of what we give our kids comes from our parents.
And do you know the first thing I thought when I climbed inside? That it smelled like them, like home. How long will the smell last? How long will it take for us to totally run it into the ground? Until the kids get it dirty and the dogs leave their hair like a fine coat of fur over all the seats?
It’s almost like I want to keep it in its pristine state because at this phase of my life I worry for my parents. I already anticipate missing them like I anticipate missing my daughter this fall as she leaves for college.
As I climbed in I thought, “Well, at least she and I will have this to remember them by when they’re gone.”
Isn’t that morbid? Isn’t that sad? That I got my parents car to give my daughter because I know that I’m going to need to have them all with me still? That I can’t imagine a world in which I can’t call or talk or drive up and see them or vice versa?
I think this car is my way of trying to keep the past with me in the same way that I want my daughter to know that I am with her.
So I don’t do well with change or even anticipating change. I don’t do well with endings and beginnings, but do you know what I’m pretty good at?
I’m actually an excellent driver, and I’ve got my mom to thank for that.
All those years ago when I drove her home after that dreaded, epic license test, I remember how she smiled at me as I beamed over at her. She glowed.
I feel that smile every time I climb into her car. I feel her love surrounding me like titanium. I’ve had a lifetime of it, so why not pass it on?