Teaching Sam to Drive
Getting Sam to Slow Down
Okay, you have to slow way down here," I'm saying. Sam, at the wheel, doesn't respond. He's concentrating too hard to speak. His hands, correctly positioned at 10 and 2 o'clock, grip the steering wheel so tight his knuckles are white, and his face, furrowed in concentration, is beginning to turn red. It occurs to me to wonder if he's actually holding his breath. Then it occurs to me to wonder if he's forgotten how the brakes work on our 12-year-old Camry. This is not his first time behind the wheel, but he's never parked before, and he's approaching the last row of spaces in the supermarket lot without decelerating in the least.
"Before you pull in, you have to slow to almost a stop," I say. (What I don't mention: "Especially if the next car is a black Jaguar whose owner has chosen the last row in the lot to avoid open-door dings." My 15 year-old is about to challenge this theory.)
Sam plows forward, clearing the Jag by a mere quarter inch.
"Honey, slow down! " I insist. The car keeps moving. Now I'm less worried about property damage and more worried about death. "Stop the car!"
Sam, with the bony knees of his 6-foot-2 frame jammed under the steering wheel, untangles his size-12 feet and stomps on the pedal. The wrong pedal. The car lurches forward -- up and over the cement barrier at the end of the parking space, over the sidewalk curb and straight toward traffic streaming past us on the crowded road.
I throw my arms up over my face. Sam, reordering his knees, finally stomps on the other pedal. The car slams to a stop a foot from the road. We look at each other, panting.
Sam says a word he's not allowed to say, turns off the car and hands me the keys. There's a finality to the gesture. If an alien starship arrived at the Kroger parking lot this minute and beamed him aboard, never to return to his loving mother's arms, he'd go. Gladly.
I may have the only teenager in America who isn't itching to drive a car. It's not that Sam isn't desperate to get away from me. He is desperate -- a fact he does not hesitate to point out daily -- but for the past few years he's already been quite successful at ditching his parents. He walks, bikes, or calls the city shuttle bus that comes on demand. And when he wants to visit a friend who lives too far away, my husband or I will almost always give him a ride. Sam just pops in his iPod earbuds, turns up the volume, and zones out till the car magically deposits him, through no effort of his own, exactly where he wants to be.