It has been 16 days since Grace turned 18 and got her driver’s permit. During that time she has driven five times, and mostly under protest. She does not like driving, is afraid of it, and if she had it her way, would never do it again, especially after today.
I suppose it’s a good thing to get that first accident out-of-the-way early in the game, right? Tell me it is? Please! I need to hear that this is normal and that she is just not the most terrible driver out there.
When I picked Grace up at work this afternoon, I told her she could drive home. She wasn’t happy and reluctantly got in the driver’s seat. Fastening her seat belt, she adjusted her seat and the mirrors. Then, as if it were some sort of race, she put the car in reverse and stepped on the gas. I don’t know how many times I have emphasized to her that the gas is not all that necessary when backing out of a parking spot. Plus, it’s as if she can’t multi-task when driving. Turning the wheel and slowly removing her foot from the brake are not something that she seems to understand can be done simultaneously.
After stepping on the gas for a few moments, she then started turning the wheels to back out of the parking space and missed the car next to us by mere centimeters. Of course all I could manage to sputter between my clenched teeth with my finger nails dug deep into the passenger seat was, “That was good.” There’s no possible way she believed me because I was white as a ghost and one hand flew to the top of the car through the open window as I braced for what I was sure was going to be a collision as she was backing out.
“I’m sorry.” she told me. Something that she constantly repeats the entire time she is driving. I keep trying to be supportive, pointing out the positive, reminding her of what she needs to work on, never yelling, but I’m not fooling either of us. Driving is just not something that is coming naturally for Grace.
Once on the main road, Grace only had about 10 seconds before turning off onto a side street leading to our subdivision. I reminded her to put her foot on the brake as she took the turn, but somehow she still managed to jar me to one side of the car as she came within a few feet of a left turner waiting to turn onto the main road. Actually this was better than the last time she took this turn. Last time she had to come to a complete stop in the middle of the turn and barely escaped having to back up in order to not hit a left turner and complete the turn. This is progress? I guess it must be, but my feet were dug into the carpet so deep that I swore they were going to break through the floor which when I think about it would be a good thing. Then I’d be able to be like Fred Flintstone and use my feet as actual brakes.
Continuing down the side street I reminded her not to hug the curb. She doesn’t like it when there are any oncoming cars so she tends to ride the right side of the road so close that she will often end up going off the road onto the gravel shoulder. Today she only did this once or twice. Again, an improvement of sorts.
Turning into our subdivision was yet another experience. As we approached the turn, I reminded her to apply the brake and wait for traffic to clear. Two oncoming cars passed as we came to the street with another about a quarter mile further down the road. As she proceeded to turn, without stepping on the brake, continuing to accelerate, she asked me, “Is it okay to turn?”
Okay, now tell me if I’m wrong here but shouldn’t she have stopped the car before taking the turn and then asked me this — NOT WHILE DOING IT! Being that the oncoming car was a safe distance away, there was no harm, other than the fact that I had to brace myself with both hands in order to avoid being thrown out my open window.
Trying to compose myself I once again told her she was doing good and that her turn was definitely smoother. How could it not have been smooth. It’s not like she applied the brake at any point to jerk the car or anything. And seeing as I had braced myself securely with one hand clutching the dashboard and the other clinging to the hand grip above my seat, I’m sure I only suffered minor whiplash.
Finally on the home stretch, I silently watched the road as she continued to hug the right side of the road. Reminding her again that she shouldn’t ride so close to the curb, I was met with an exasperated, “I know.” It is completely understandable that she is frustrated. She wasn’t frustrated with me, she was frustrated because she is so afraid of hitting the on-coming cars, that she can’t seem to help herself.
Making the last turn onto our street, Grace commented there was a car that had been on her tail ever since we turned into our subdivision. She joked that he was probably going to follow us home so he could tell her what a terrible driver she was. I told her not to worry about it, because if he did, I’d take care of it. Never cross a mama bear when it comes to her cubs.
Within a few moments I could see our house and let out an audible sigh. You’d have thought we’d been on the road for hours, when actually it had been less than seven minutes.
Five houses from home an oncoming car approached. There was a parked car to the left and farther up another parked car to the right. There was ample time for us to pass both parked cars before the oncoming car would pass us. Unfortunately, Grace panicked.
I’m not sure if it was the stress of the car behind us, the fear of the car in front of us, or the pressure of the cars on either side of us, but it was too much for Grace to handle. She pulled over to the right side of the road, again without applying the brake, heading straight for the parked car. I said (or yelled, I can’t rightly remember now), “Don’t drive so close to the…” TOO LATE!
The mirror on my side of the car smashed into our neighbor’s mailbox, folding against the side of the car. Slowly the car came to a stop several feet from the parked car in front of us. Why the brakes weren’t slammed on is still not clear, but suffice it to say, I remember it more as coasting rather than a sudden halt.
The car behind us sped past between the parked cars before the oncoming car blocked his way. Grace and I sat there.
The oncoming car passed us. We sat there.
Finally, I calmly told her to pull around the parked car and head for our driveway. With tears welled in her eyes, Grace slowly pulled into the middle of the street, drove two houses down, and pulled onto our driveway, all the while telling me how sorry she was. I reminded her that hubby’s car was in the garage, so she needed to be VERY careful when pulling in. Slowly she maneuvered the car perfectly into its spot.
Turning the car off, Grace began to cry. I wrapped my arms around her, fighting my tears, and told her it was okay. She was shaking and sobbing. I held her while she cried and told me how she was never going to drive again. I laughed and told her that at least no one was hurt and no real damage was done. The side mirrors on my car fold in for car washes, so the only damage was a scrape mark on the plastic shell which we were able to remove with a soft rag and WD-40.
I know there must be some wonderful statistics out there about how most accidents happen within a mile or so of home, how teens have more accidents than any other age group, or perhaps even how most accidents occur within the first 6 months of driving — but this is no consolation today. Today I feel that I failed my daughter because I cannot make driving as easy as walking, talking, reading, writing, working, or any of the other hundreds of milestones she seemed to so easily conquer. Her confidence is shattered — or what little she had to begin with and I do not know how to get it back for her. I did tell her that she is going to have to drive again tomorrow, because the only way she is going to get better is to practice.
Grace told me tonight that she really “hates” driving and does not want to drive at all. I assured her this will pass and a year from now although she will still remember today, it will seem ridiculous to her that she made a mistake like this. Her first accident out-of-the-way, no injuries, no real damage (other than Grace’s confidence and my nerves), and a lesson learned — I hope, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.