Friday, June 10, 2011

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be drivers

Life used to be so easy as a parent. The days were pretty much the same: Wake up, feed the baby oatmeal, give the baby a bottle, and put him in the playpen to play for 30 minutes to play. Contained. Surrounded on four sides by protective netting.

Today, the playpen is long gone, and in its place, some misguided government employee at the DMV decided to give my six-foot “baby” a learner’s permit. To drive. Uncontained. Without protective netting.

Actually, Nathaniel is a very good driver, and always has been. By that, I mean he used to navigate his battery-operated Jeep around the ‘hood with both hands on the wheel. And when his little friend Chase got behind the wheel and started driving all crazy-like, five-year-old Nathaniel yelled, “Both hands on the wheel and look forward!”

But there’s always the unexpected situation waiting around the corner. And these are the situations that make me a tad uneasy when I see my baby/toddler/teenager get behind a hunk of steel with the madcap intention of propelling it forward upward 65 miles per hour. Seriously, whose idea was this?

Someone remind me: What exactly was so bad with the whole horse and buggy mode of transportation?

There was one thing my mom did growing up that I swore I would never do - the protective straight-arm-into-the-chest maneuver. You know the one … you’re driving down the road, the light turns yellow and your mom decides to stop suddenly but not before throwing her iron fist of mother-bear strength into your chest, as if she, not the industrial-strength seatbelt, is the only thing that’s going to keep you out of harm’s way.

Yeah, I promised I would never do that, and broke that promise in the passenger seat with Nathaniel driving. He wasn’t slowing down quickly enough for my comfort level, rapidly approaching the stopped car in front of us, so I reached out and did what mothers have been doing for decades – I straight armed him in the chest. In retrospect, there is probably a better method of communicating STOP NOW, but I fell back on instinct in that second, and he was left rubbing the bruised area of his torso and looking at me as if my hair was on fire. Bottom line: He stopped.

Maybe my mom did know what she was doing after all.

A few days later, Nathaniel was at the wheel while we drove his sister to soccer practice. As we passed our neighbor Gretchen, Nathaniel decided to wave, and simultaneously drove up on the curb of the sidewalk next to the road. When I screamed, he reasoned, “Well it would be rude not to wave at our neighbor, right?”

Nicely played, young man. Throwing the good manners card was masterful.

I enjoy our times in the car, winding our way through the Umpqua Valley’s country roads. We talk and I heap my driving wisdom on him (they’re brief conversations, mostly). Here’s one such conversation:

Nathaniel: Mom, did you ever hit a bird when you were driving?

Me: No, I don’t think I did, but I think I may have hit a squirrel once. Or maybe that was your dad.

Nathaniel: You hit DAD?!?

Good thing comprehension isn’t on his maneuverability test.

So now he starts driver’s education for the summer, and someone else gets to take over the role of training my child to become a safe and responsible driver.

I just hope that person has a strong arm and instincts like this mama bear.

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