“No left foot!”
I screamed as the minivan slammed to a stop.
Deep breath, I told myself, and faced my son. Yosef’s bright, toothy smile kept hidden the fear and uncertainty evidenced by his death-grip on the minivan’s steering wheel.
“Sorry for yelling, man. I’m just a bit nervous – like you,” I chuckled and continued. “Let’s start from the beginning before we go any farther.”
Only a few days before this abrupt stop in a parking lot of a local church, Yosef had passed his written driving exam and, at least by local standards, was ready to get behind the wheel. In this moment, and as he posed for the picture with the plastic encased learner’s permit, I faced a haunting realization that my son is becoming a grown up.
To distract myself from the epiphany of being old enough to have a child behind the wheel, I dove deep into teaching driving to my son. I quickly learned, though, I had taken a lot for granted.
Driving lesson No. 1: Right foot only
Driving may be the only activity reserved exclusively for right-footed people. My son, though, is a leftie. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he eased off the brake with his dominant foot while depressing the accelerator with his right.
How does a kid NOT know to drive with the right foot only?
Take note – they have no idea about the kinetics of driving.
Lesson No. 2: Heed the mirrors
Mirrors, like the folded paper maps of road trips past, have become meaningless to today’s kids.
If they want to check out the back of their hair, they take a picture on their phone. During our practice session, when I asked Yosef to check the van’s driver’s side, he stuck his head out of the window – Ace Ventura style.
Checking mirrors eventually becomes subconscious to drivers. I can assure you; their importance will need to be immediately conveyed to your children when they get behind the wheel because, to them, mirrors are useless.
Lesson No. 3: Old school vs. modern technology
Our minivan is equipped with some standard technology that make many old-school driving techniques obsolete. Our kids don’t necessarily need to put their right arm behind the passenger seat, rotate their upper body clockwise and look out the rear window to back up – the rear camera will do that for them.
So, as a parent and my son’s first driver’s ed teacher, I am left wondering if looking behind the vehicle by turning your head is mandatory for a new driver anymore. It feels a bit like teaching cursive handwriting – I feel like I should, with virtually no justification, just because that’s how I learned to do it.
I’ve decided to teach him via the “old school” method while using technology as a backup. I can decide if that is an appropriate choice.
Lesson No. 4: The art of the turn
Turning seems to throw Yosef – and I gather, for good reason. I turn mindlessly now, but, when I was learning, I recall thinking that rounding corners required finesse that I had no preparation for.
Think about it: turning should be done slowly, calmly, looking in the direction you’re going after assessing what is surrounding the vehicle. The series of actions to execute a turn seems unnatural. Further, the other, more subtle aspect of turning a vehicle is coming out a turn by allowing the force of the tires to glide the wheel through your hands – another unnatural feeling to first-time drivers.
As Yosef veered around his first parking lot curve, we jerked side-to-side as his locked fingers steered hard left, then back straight, to hard left again – just like the go-carts we’d driven together at his eighth birthday party.
“Take it easy, big man,” I nervously quipped.
Turning will certainly require more lessons.
Lesson No. 5: Watch your blind spot
Our minivan circling the church parking lot caught the eye of an older gentlemen carting bottled water into the sanctuary. Noticing his stare, I had Yosef come to a stop (yes, an abrupt one) next to his red truck.
I smiled and nodded, “Hello! My son is learning to drive. I hope this is OK?”
“Of course!” The man’s voice was warm. “This place is a perfect test track. You’re doing great, son.”
“Thanks! Have a good day.”
Yosef began pulling away (yes, too quickly). As he did, the older man brushed my forearm, saying, “Watch your blind spot.”
I nodded, then suddenly I was lost in thinking of my dad. I remember him saying the same phrase to me, teaching me to drive a stick shift in the parking lot of Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As I shifted his Ford Escort Pony into first gear my dad told me, “Toby, watch your blind spot.”
As Yosef applied the brakes (a bit more smoothly this time) and slid the minivan into park, today’s first driving lesson was over.
I felt old.
I was exhausted.
I thought of my dad teaching driving skills to me. On the way home, I called him. I had to.
“Dad, Yosef drove the van today,” I said.
“Man, how can that be?” I imagine my dad feeling older now, too.
“Yeah, I told him to watch his blind spot.”
Dad seemed reflective, saying, “Well, that’s good advice.”