When Nathan was born, I can remember very clearly cutting his cord, and then shortly thereafter the doctor handing him to me to lay him on a gently heated table for measurements and such.
So I’m confused. Somehow this “kid” who lives at my house named Nate, who is now taller than I am and nowhere close to finished, has a permit to learn to operate a motor vehicle. Yet I’m certain that was only two or three years ago that he was two small handfuls of barely anything.
(Sigh. Is it too late to stunt his younger brother? Can we get him to start smoking cigarettes? Is that an old wives’ tale?)
I really started teaching Nate well before he got his permit. I think one of the most valuable things I’ve done has been to give voice to every single thought I have as a driver while he’s riding with me. (“Light up there just turned yellow, so off the accelerator.” “Is she going to change lanes? Does she see me? Where can I go if she doesn’t?” “We’re slowing a bit much for right here, so someone must be turning up in the line.”) Try that yourself sometime. You’re keeping up with a lot more than you think you are.
Now some of this has gone much like I thought it would. Other parts of it have surprised me deeply. (I’ll take Parenting Microcosms for $1000, Alex.)
For example, I couldn’t wait to learn to drive, and took every single opportunity my dad would give me (which was generally all of them, whenever we were going somewhere together.) I think Nate is enjoying learning, but it’s almost like I have to roust him. And he hasn’t driven the entire family yet, mostly because he hasn’t practiced in the minivan yet. (Big jump from a subcompact.)
I definitely recognize some tendencies of the nascent driver that I exhibited myself. He doesn’t quite yet believe in his heart that the car wants to track straight, so he actively steers a little too much (as opposed to making occasional corrections). He can’t yet turn his head toward his passenger at all without also turning the wheel to the right. (That sounds like something he shouldn’t do anyway, but you do have to move your head around a bit when you’re driving!)
Tasks in Parallel, Not Series
Combining simple tasks into a complex task is stymieing him a little bit. For example, making a left turn smoothly requires getting off the accelerator, turning your signal on, looking for opposing traffic, braking, turning the wheel, accelerating again, and turning/allowing the steering wheel to return to center.
But of course, you don’t do these in linear order. You’re picking up one while releasing the other, or vice versa. You may do pieces of three or four of them at the same time. If you instead try to run it like a checklist, you’re going to do things like signal and look, but plow into the corner at 25 mph because you forgot to brake. Or you’re going to negotiate the corner effectively, but then come to a stop because you didn’t start accelerating again partway through it.
Now he doesn’t do this all the time, and never did. We are practicing and he is improving. But this is something that took me pretty much completely by surprise. I’d think the most video game-saturated generation ever would be well-wired for such a thing.
An old friend of mine with kids several months ahead of ours warned me that as my child’s passenger and teacher, my desire to raise my voice would be nearly overwhelming. She also told me that I needed to try very hard not to, because it was destructive to the learning environment. Wow, was she ever right—on both counts. I’ve lost the battle a time or two. But mostly I’ve kept my voice level, just as I’ve trained Nathan to listen to what I say and respond without having to elevate it.
(And indeed, as I remember back, my dad didn’t yell at me while I was learning, and I know all too well now that he must have wanted to.)
The biggest difference between Nathan now and me at 15—one with which I am most pleased—is that he seems to have a much better initial understanding of just how dangerous this is. He has a healthy respect for the physics that I know I didn’t have at his age. (Too much Dukes of Hazzard and BJ and the Bear?) I don’t want him so wound up that he makes a mistake because he won’t relax at all. But I’d much rather be trying to talk him in this direction rather than the other.
I’ll check in again sometime soon as Nate’s driving career progresses!