Column | Teen milestone: Defenseless driving

My eldest and most expensive child recently reached one of those teen milestones that parents often consider with a combination of dread and hopefulness. No, I’m not referring to her first solo trip to a beauty salon, from which she might return either lovelier than ever, or looking like an adolescent version of Pennywise the clown. I’m talking about earning her learner license to operate our largest and most embarrassing family vehicle while at least one parent develops advanced gluteal clenching skills in the front passenger seat.

Although we have several driving academies in town, my daughter chose to complete her driver’s education through an online program (in between taking kissy face selfies). Then the idea was for me to “teach” the driving portion of the curriculum since I already provide an after-school shuttle service to her various extra-curricular activities that always require more than one expensive outfit. And having gone through driver’s ed myself many years ago, I figured I could do at least as well as my own instructor – a friendly football coach who mostly read the paper and warned me against swerving to dodge roadkill.

When the fateful day arrived, and I had devoured enough TUMS tablets to bring peace to the Middle East, my daughter suggested we travel to a Texas DPS office in a smaller nearby town in hopes of a shorter wait – and minimal likelihood of being seen in the same zip code as her dad by someone she knows. Unfortunately, when we reached the office, it looked like Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A, only instead of wearing bovine costumes, the throngs of customers were dressed like surly teenagers and their beleaguered parents. Once we squeezed our way in, the clerk told us to fill out some lengthy forms and take a number. (You know you’re in trouble when they’re up to exponents.)

After I’d reached retirement age and written down every possible piece of personal information about my daughter and the rest of our family, including the medical history of our pets, the clerk finally called our number. Since my own driver’s license was due for renewal, I decided to share in the joy by forking over $25 for a charming portrait of myself that looks like the love child of Shrek and a smoked ham.

Learner permit in hand, my daughter was anxious to begin her training right away and asked for the keys. With trembling fingers, I handed them over, prayed that we would arrive home safely–with clean underwear, and assumed my position in the passenger seat. I’m pretty sure I could’ve operated a lug wrench with my buns at that point.

To make the experience even more terrifying, what began as a beautiful spring day suddenly turned into a good ol’ East Texas frog strangler as soon as we pulled out on the highway. At first, I was worried about the zero-visibility, but then I decided it was better this way. At least I wouldn’t have to shield my eyes with my hands and could use my left arm as my daughter’s emergency surrogate parental seat belt while keeping a firm grip on the “OH, SHICKIWAD!!! WE’RE GONNA DIE!!!” handle with my right.

To my pleasant surprise, though, my daughter demonstrated solid multitasking skills throughout the entire ordeal. She was able to simultaneously navigate the treacherous road conditions, chronically roll her eyes in my general direction, and completely ignore my recommendation that she maintain her speed at a steady 2 mph. She even managed to park the car in our garage without producing an enormous cavern in the sheetrock, which is more that I can say about my first few tries.

So far, I’m happy to say that my daughter has turned out to be a terrific driver­–thanks to my guidance on dealing with roadkill. In fact, when my middle daughter turns fifteen next year, I’m looking forward to teaching her to drive, as well.

(In lieu of flowers, please send TUMS.)