I may not make it through driver education.I Not mine. My driver education came during my 15th year in a rural county called Arlington, in an era when getting your driver's license was a routine rite of passage. All you had to do was turn 15, get three of your closest friends to swear they had licenses, and then persuade your parents that your social standing would plummet if you didn't get yours. Once your parents were brainwashed, the rest was easy.
You got a learner's permit and then you got whichever parent yelled the least to teach you how to drive. This was quickly accomplished in the parking lot of the nearest junior high school. You also had to spend 20 minutes memorizing a little white rule book and then you and your parent drove to the state motor vehicles office and you took your driver's test. If you came from a wealthy family that had a car with power steering, you were a good bet to pass on the first attempt, since you would be able to parallel park. On the other hand, if your family could afford that kind of high-powered car, the chances were you couldn't stay within the speed limit around the motor vehicles department. But you could always take the test over and eventually you were bound to pass, and yet another teen-ager would be set loose on America's highways.
That, of course, led to some spectacular accidents. Finally the state legislators had enough. They raised the driving age and promoted something called driver education. I, remembering the time I drove along a median strip separating a parking lot from the road, used to think that driver ed was a good idea. When the time came for my son the teen-ager to take it, I signed him up with not a second thought. If I drove on top of a median strip, heaven knows what he would do.
He has now had something like 15 hours of driver education.
He has also taken to offering a running critique of my driving.
"Mom, you know you really ought to turn on your signal before turning."
Me, (patiently): "There wasn't anybody around for miles."
He: "You should still do it."
"You're supposed to pause at the yellow light."
"No one else did."
"That's no excuse."
An approach to the Capital Beltway that was, perhaps, a trifle fast: "Hey, take it easy there, Mother."
"Leave me alone."
Occasional tailgating has not gone unnoticed. Nor has occasional speeding. A maneuver from the center lane of the Beltway to the exit lane prompted an extended lecture on how many times I am supposed to look in the rear-view mirror and then the side-view mirror and then in back again before proceeding with what I used to consider a routine move.
Not long ago, we were in a parking lot that had a slight incline. I put the car in park and issued landing instructions to the children. My son the teen-ager, who was supposed to get the baby out of her car seat, didn't move. He was looking at me with exasperation. "Mom," he said, finally, "you forgot the emergency brake."
"I didn't forget it. I never put it on because I always forget to take it off."
"Mom, don't be ridiculous. There is no sense taking a chance on having the car roll down the hill because you didn't put the emergency brake on."
I put the emergency brake on.
Three miles later I remembered to take the emergency brake off.
I was not gracious about this. "See what you made me do?"
The final straw came when we were creeping up a hill. I decided to shift to a lower gear. "MOM, WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?"
"I'M TRYING TO SHIFT INTO LOW GEAR!"
"NOT WHILE THE CAR IS MOVING!"
The printable part of the dialog that followed concluded with my asking him what justification he had for pitting his five minutes of driver education up against my 20 years of driving experience.
But this is clearly not a good attitude. Driver ed is not going to go away and I suppose I should be glad he's showing such an interest in good driving. If I were adult about this, I would listen to his suggestions.
But I'm not being adult about this. Driving is a point of pride and I don't take criticism of my driving any better than most people do. The other day my son mentioned that he'd gotten a C-plus on a driver ed quiz.
"Hah, hah!" I shouted gleefully. "What did you miss?"
"I don't know. They don't give the papers back."
"Well," I said, relishing my advantage, "how are you supposed to know what you miss. I mean, there may be something important you don't know. This isn't some math test. Your ignorance could end up killing somebody."
"Mom," he said. "It wasn't that kind of test. They asked questions like how many feet a car goes at 60 miles per hour before braking to a full stop."
"That's very important to know. You could have an accident not knowing that."
"Mom, I bet you don't even know the answer to that."
"Of course I do."
"What is it, then?"
Wicked laughter. "Try 256 feet."
Wait till he has kids.