This week, Derek was scheduled for the behind-the-wheel segment of his Driver's Education experience. (Excuse me just one moment....aaarrrrgh! Okay, I'm better now...) He spent 3 sessions, 2 hours each, with his instructor, absorbing all he could about the delicate operations of a motor vehicle. I got to meet his teacher in person the first day when I dropped Derek off, and let me just tell you that Mr. F gives the immediate impression of being as warm, gregarious...and also calm, and laid-back...as anyone you'd ever hope to meet. These are positive, reassuring qualities to observe in the person who's going to be spending time in a car with your child for his first-ever attempt at driving. (Come to think of it, they're admirable traits for ANYONE who deals with adolescents in a tightly confined, enclosed space on a regular basis, yeah? I should try it sometime...sigh...)
I asked Derek how he felt before his initial session, and he admitted to some butterflies in the old stomach region. I think he felt better after being introduced to the friendly Mr. F...and hearing that they'd be starting out in the (totally empty) parking lot, getting the feel for the automobile, learning how to adjust the important controls, working on parking...and moving verrrry slowly at first. That, of course, was the nice, easy, "Welcome to the Road, Kid" portion.
The next day, they'd be exploring Franklin Street, the main thoroughfare through downtown Chapel Hill. It's 2 lanes each way, and lined with meters on both sides, requiring you to watch for not only the row of parked cars, but also people slowing down to approach a space, or pulling in or out of one. There are also stoplights on every block, each of which has crosswalks for the myriad of pedestrians who meander through the shopping-and-restaurant-rich area on foot. To add to the festivities, there are one-way streets in the mix. Oh, and did I mention that they would be going during Rush Hour (you know, such as it is, down here) so Derek would have to negotiate the joy of traffic as well? Jeez, when you consider all of those factors...the whole process sounds ridiculously difficult...bordering on downright impossible! It makes you wonder how we adults manage to do this every day of our lives, doesn't it? This is probably why Derek returned home afterwards and declared, “Driving is absolutely exhausting! There’s so much to think about and pay attention to!” Very good, grasshopper—remember that, will you please?
Finally, the ultimate meeting involved the Big Challenge: driving on Interstate 40. (Even I was nervous for Derek that day. My baby…venturing out onto the confusing, terrifying Multi-Lane Highway…of Doom. He’d be managing all of these crazy factors—accelerating, merging, maintaining speed, changing lanes, passing, decelerating, exiting….and probably lots of other “ings”. Ay yi yi. What could I possibly say to encourage him…I know, how about, “If you feel you’re driving like a nice little old grandma…that’s probably what's best.” I mean, there’s no reason to go getting all Need for Speed out there in these early stages, right? And it all worked out; everyone came back safely…the car, Mr. F, and my child.
But you want to know the REALLY nutty thing? After just 6 hours, he now has his Certificate stating that he successfully completed the course. We take this to his high school along with his final 9th grade Report Card, to get the Eligibility Form, saying that he failed fewer than 2 classes. (Evidently you must be an adequate student to be allowed in the driver’s seat, although I’m not entirely sure why. Maturity? Responsibility? Readiness? Do these really correlate to grades? Hmm…) Then, with these 2 pieces of paper in hand, he’ll be allowed to apply for his Learner’s Permit. That’s right, folks, he could presumably show up at the DMV tomorrow (well, not really, since they don’t open on Sunday, but you get my drift), at age 15 years, 2 months, and 13 days, and take the written test. When he passes it, he’ll be green-lighted (ha!) to drive--with a parent in attendance--for 1 year, clocking at least 60 hours of monitored, recorded practice.
Several of his friends have already reached this phase, and we've spotted them carefully, slowly navigating the neighborhood streets in the family vehicle. So I've seen it coming...but it still just doesn't seem possible that these KIDS can handle...everything that comes with driving. I can tell you, I predict that it'll be a loooooong time before I feel comfortable enough to sit on the passenger side while Derek tackles the highway. Hey, since he can't drive my car anyway (manual transmission, don't ya know--yay! I mean "darn, too bad"...) perhaps it'll be Dad's Job to accompany him when Mom's feeling too...jittery. Fortunately we live in an area with quite a few smaller roads and lots of rural surroundings for him to get his proverbial feet wet.
Oh, what the heck...we'll just get him one of those dorky (but informative and helpful) Student Driver magnets to slap on the car, so people will give him a wide berth and plenty of patience. Then he can get some practice in by chauffeuring us all to...hmm...oh, I know: Ben & Jerry's on Franklin Street! Yeah, suddenly I'm totally getting behind this idea. Or...maybe Husband can just go with him, and they can bring me back something...we'll see how it goes!