Right. So the thing is it's a whole other can of worms when you're the parent primarily responsible for teaching the kid to drive. I know this because I COMPLETELY ABDICATED with the first two other than teaching them how not to burn up the clutch and later the finer points of downshifting into a curve (but that was after, driving 201). There was something about not being particularly involved that gave me a false sense of security thereby rendering me completely docile when they passed their tests and perfectly willing to hand over the car keys. I thought, you passed, you can drive, right? Of course you can. Here you go, kid. Don't eff it up.
Mike proceded to eff it up spectacularly over a prolonged period of time. His car, after the first two years looked like demolition derby material. And so it was. He seemed to have it in for small saplings and heavy equipment, i.e., DOT trucks and other such indestructibles. None of this got him in trouble. Multiple 65s in a 45 got him sent back to driver re-education I believe three times and sent my insurance through the roof but oddly enough no one was ever injured. I'm not going to discuss the squirrels. Eventually his license was suspended and he had to learn to cope without a vehicle which turned out to be a very valuable life lesson as he was no longer living at home (YA THINK?!) and sort of had to make it to work on time in order to feed himself and pay the rent on time. Mike has a valid license today, an attribute to which (of which? at which? with which?) the entire family can be proud.
Lucia. My god that girl's got a lead foot. One day I came around the bend that splits route 57 from 53 and the general flow of traffic does about 40 and the limit is 35 and we seem to have a deer population problem in that area so you really don't want to do much more than 45 when somebody comes whipping around that corner at about 60 and runs right up my ass. Oh, well fuck you too! Approximately one third of the driving population can be counted on to do this at any one time because it is FUN to do 60 around that corner but it is nearly blind around that corner and therefore inadvisable. Also, most of the population coughs into their proverbial fist and backs off immediately. This wad? No. Right up my ass the entire 3.6 miles to my street and THEN THE FKER TURNS ONTO MY STREET AND THEN MAKES THE LEFT AT THE T AND THEN HOLY GOD THAT'S MY DAUGHTER MAN, IS SHE DEAD MEAT.
Lucia. At what point did you become aware that you were behind me (expecting the answer to be, 'when you turned into our driveway')?
When I came around the corner.
Lucia. Do you ride up everyone's ass like that?
Of course not!
Lucia! WHAT THE HELL?!
I was just having fun with you!
LUCIA THAT WAS NOT FUN!
Lucia has had one accident and she never should have walked away from it. God looks out for fools and angry girls. I'm just saying. 45 in a 25 on a dark and windy road and she was mad as hell and swerved to hit a deer (deer move, dear Lucia) and hit a tree (trees do not move, dear Lucia) not quite head on therefore rolling the car crushing every part of the car with the exception of the driver's compartment except the door wasn't going to open plus she was upside down and the frame was buckled such that she couldn't get through that window but she wiggled her way into the compressed back seat and barely got herself through the remains of the passenger window behind the driver's seat. She then proceeded to walk about barefoot below the rise of a blind corner until she was nearly hit by a man probably doing 35 who called it in. She cut her foot on a pebble, had a nasty bruise from her seatbelt and the bleach in her hair stayed there all night which turned her head into a dandelion puff.
So I wasn't expecting any of this. By the time Lucia got her license I'd about decided Mike was an aberration and by the time Elizabeth was approaching sixteen, well, you know there's a nine year gap between the two girls and I really didn't think much of it.
I don't actually remember when Elizabeth did the research on what it would take to get her license, all I knew was State of Connecticut, six months. Oh, no, she tells me, if you take the thirty hour course you can take your test in four months. How much is the thirty hour course? WHAT?! Twenty-two hours in the classroom, eight hours behind the wheel. In the end it was the twenty-two hours in the classroom that sold me because that's the shit that nobody taught me other than the things my father happened to mention (and he said plenty) while we were driving. The thing is, there's just so much to know if you stop and actually think about it. I'm serious, there's a lot of shit we have to know that just is NOT intuitive. You don't know just how bad it can be until you start teaching your kid in particularly congested areas with weird traffic stuff like circles and jug handles (OK, we don't have jug handles) and odd medians, and five way stop signs, and intersections where one way does NOT stop but you must indicate anyway. You know, STUFF. OH! My favorite and I didn't even know this, I do it out of self-preservation. The give way law or whatever it's called. If an officer has pulled over a vehicle in the break down lane and you are traveling in the right lane but can put yourself in the left lane then you must. If you do NOT do this you are subject to whatever the hell he or she feels like doing to you if you happen to get close enough to piss them off. I only know this because an associate of mine and TEFKASM's and Cielo's now that I think of it, otherwise known as The Octopus got pulled over for not giving way and we heard about it for months. So who's going to teach our kids all this shit? Do you really think they're going to ingest all ninety pages of that pdf doc? Do you really think that ninety page pdf doc actually contains the entire set of motor vehicle laws for any given state? I've seen it. I do not believe so; it is a practice test for the written test which determines whether or not you are fit to have a road permit in the first place.
So right. The thirty hour class was bought and paid for and while this was all happening (happening involves Elizabeth getting off the couch and liberating my debit card from my purse) Elizabeth was plotting the timeline.
- Sunday, December 11 at approximately 7:58 AM Elizabeth turns 16 (we don't really know when because no one was looking; I'm not making this up)
- Saturday, December 17 first possible non-weekday (because I won't let her miss class and she hisses at me like a cat) that her permit test can be taken
- Tuesday, April 18 first possible day her test can be taken with the driving school (beats the hell out of doing it with DMV) and I DID let her miss class for this one
- Friday, April 21 first possible day she could actually retrieve the piece of plastic which is her driver's license from the DMV (because the driving school passes or fails and then submits the paper work) I did NOT let her miss another class to stand in line to retrieve her piece of plastic
- Saturday, April 22 first possible day to get up at 6:30 in order to be in line by 7:20 in order to get into the building before DMV reaches maximum capacity when the doors open at 8 (as bodies come out, bodies are let in, it's a really, really sad sort of thing to watch)
I have to tell you, I didn't even let her out of the parking lot until February and by then I realized we were in danger of running out of time because we had to log forty hours on our own, never mind the eight with the driving school. At that point I was letting her drive home from school and to the grocery store, CVS, and back home again. That was about all I could handle. When her first driving teacher nudged me very gently I sucked it up and dove right in. We survived two hours and a major city. I don't recall if we both cried that time or the time after but she had this terrifying habit of stopping in the middle of an intersection 'to collect herself' and doing exactly the same thing as she made a left turn across traffic to pull into a parking lot, she'd collect herself with her butt hanging out in the road. There were only a handful of times that I actually yelled and the yelling only happened on about the fourth command to STOP! My car does not have a brake on the passenger side.
So we got our shit together and just about every day after driver's ed and then track she drove for two hours and I instructed as calmly as possible. Most of the time I just told her where to go and talked about nothing in particular because that's what worked for her. Little by little my death grip on the door handle loosened and one day I discovered both hands were in my lap. These days I check and answer my email, looking up periodically to make sure we're still going the right direction or to make a course correction if she's made a wrong turn. There were a couple of really close calls in terms of getting all of the classes and all of the instruction hours in before the test and she came home from Nicaragua sick enough I was afraid she'd fail her test on Tuesday but she insisted on driving the test route again on Monday (and then they went and changed it anyway) and spent an hour practicing parking in the test lot with its horribly faded lines before she threw the towel in and drove us home.
In the end we logged probably close to seventy hours. She is a competent driver but she is a new driver and I have never been so aware of what it means to be a new driver. Hell, I've never spent any real time in a car with a new driver. Becoming truly competent takes years and for some of us it just never happens. Sometimes it never happens because we just don't have what it takes but a lot of times it doesn't happen because we don't give a shit. There's a lot of that around here. Elizabeth and I were doing math the other day. Statistically speaking, the numbers in this town have been roughly the same since I lived here in 1984. There are approximately 10,000 bodies and 25% of those bodies are children. The reason that number has remained the same is because of the schools and the zoning. People come here to raise their children specifically for the schools. There are only so many houses that can be built here because of the two acre minimum zoning. We can't really have a housing boom. What we did have was a massive tear down that probably started about twenty-five years ago when the 1500 - 2500 square foot houses were replaced with 3000 - 10,000 although to be fair, I don't know that we've got more than one or two of the 10k houses, more like 7500 at best, but you get the picture.
So the numbers have remained the same. The student population fluctuates and I know that the class size has dipped down as low as 109 but it may have come back up as far as 220 at one point. I think the 109 period was brief and unusual. 200 is about average and the majority of these kids are here k-12. The 2010 census states that there were 3,289 households, half of which had children under 18 living with them. That doesn't exactly tell me how many adults I really have but what I can do is back into the number of new drivers I have at any given time counting both the junior and senior classes (because you are still a new driver in year two) which gives me 400. If we throw everybody into the mix that's 4% of the population. If we take all the other kids out of the mix it's about 5%. Either way in a town this size it just feels like an awful lot of new drivers navigating some really tight spaces.
We were sitting in the car in our tiny little town center taking a breath and talking about this. We were taking a breath because it was crazy time (there are several of those a day) and crazy time means trying to back out of a space is like throwing your life off a cliff. The town center parking lot is a one way circle with parking spaces at an angle in front front of the seven store fronts which are arranged in a U shape. Cars enter from either side of the U and when proceeding in an orderly fashion you can see, based on the reverse lights which are always freaking OBVIOUS which cars are ready to pull out, which cars have either just pulled in or have just started their engines, and which cars are parked. Because the circle is one way no one is going to come from the other direction and take a spot from you. If you are first in line and you see reverse lights, I promise, that's your spot. There's just no way in hell anyone is going to get that spot. Except, HOLY SHIT THAT GUY IS THAT EVEN LEGAL?! Therefore, cars have been known to come careening around the circle in the correct direction barely missing the car which has just started to back out on the side but DIDN'T SEE YOU BECAUSE YOU WEREN'T THERE THREE SECONDS AGO and has to rapidly pull back into the space to avoid losing its rear end.
And then there are the children. The small, under three and a half feet children that often cannot be seen in any of your three mirrors and certainly not out your rear window as you are backing up correctly. Sometimes I stop and open the door wondering if I should check under the car the way we sometimes check for cats and squirrels. Loose toddlers are a major problem. They are worse than their parents who will, with impunity walk right into a moving vehicle.
There we were, back in our space. She'd tried to back out three times doing exactly what she should be doing and three times she'd nearly had her tail knocked off. Right at that moment there was a large, black mercedes which had circled the circle three times waiting for a space. This is novel. Normally people just go to the side or back lot when there isn't a front space. We weren't moving. She was still breathing and the car was in park. The mercedes honked. She looked at me, terrified. I patted her arm and got out of the car. The woman in the mercedes looked terrified.
I learned this driving around our circle with Lucia. When someone honks at you if you get out of the car and head in their general direction they pretty much think they're going to die. I got back in the car and we finished doing the math.
It's not the kids, is it?
No, not really.
Then why do we get in so much trouble?
Because sometimes it is you.
But we get blamed for everything.
It's not fair.
I know. But listen, when you turn twenty-five your insurance will go down but until then I want you to be perfect and remember that you are paying for the sins of your brother and at least partially for your sister.
Later on she was doing 35 in a 40 and it was driving me batshit.
Can you please at least do the speed limit?