Saturday, October 24, 2015

Driving, and why I am a bad mom

My son got his learner's permit in February, after he was all done with the Eagle Scout project and passing the board. He is a one-task at a time kind of kid. He has to fully complete one thing before starting the  another. And now he's all set with graduating, Eagle, started college and stuff and life, he needed his license to drive to class.

We already went once to get him road tested. He didn't even get to drive. The proctor asked him to show the arm signals, you know the ones you use if your brake lights/signals are all out or if you're riding a bike.

He didn't know them.

He should know them from Boy Scouts and bike safety sessions but. He should have known them from the Blue Book that he was allegedly reading all along which has everything in it that would be on the test.

Seems he didn't recall, so he didn't even get to drive.

And my husband was kind of super pissed off, not at G but at the RMV in Massachusetts.

America, I will ask you this: When was the last time you actually saw a motorist use hand signals? Or a bicyclist in the city, or country, or anywhere that isn't a road race or rally?

Hell, most motorists don't even use their signal signals around here. This knowledge is allegedly super important enough to make it so you can't even take your road test but hell if anyone's ever going to use it. The RMV should also sit at a highway on ramp and watch how people respond to the Yield signs. Not so much.

But ... I digress.

That was the first weekend in September.

The RMV gave him the "fail sheet" circling the thing that he failed on. He now had the list of everything on the test. Which was good. Now we knew. We knew what he'd be tested on. And we commenced to working on all these things.

With the failure, we re-scheduled the next test on 10/23.

And because Doug is currently not allowed to take any time off, I had to be the one taking Geoff out to his next appointment.

Now, I'm a pretty even keeled person. I don't freak out easily. I'm not nervous. I can probably stare down a zombie apocalypse or calmly face and earthquake or flood without panic.

But put my son behind the wheel of my car and put me in the passenger's seat and I'm not so cool. I am a freaking wreck, a freak. And I think we're both going to die. And he doesn't pick up on it, I've asked him if I make him nervous, and he shook his head. So that's good... I guess.

We left early, the test was scheduled in a town about an hour away, a little longer with traffic. Oh, why didn't we get to take the test closer to home? Because the Massachusetts state RMV is a disaster, that's why. But I digress.

I handed Geoff the keys, showing that I trusted him to drive us there. He did exceptionally well but honest to God he needs to learn how to merge into traffic better and it doesn't seem like however much we go over it with him he'll ever get it.

This is why I'm nervous.

He also drives Grandma Slow, unlike any other 18 year old boy I've ever known. So people come up on him at 100 miles and hour, and he just kind of deals with it. He got passed on the right on a town road here, because the guy behind him didn't think he was going fast enough, at the speed limit. I kind of wanted to come around the bend and find the wreckage of his car wrapped around a tree but then I remembered this guy was someone's son and maybe one time his mom was super worried about his driving.

Anyway, two large construction area slow-downs and we eventually got there. I told him while we were driving along that he was doing so well I'd ride all the way to California with him driving that well. He did great. I eventually let go of the armrest on the car door that I'd been gripping to the point of white-knuckling. Sigh.

We checked at the RMV. Some woman came in with a guy she was sponsoring, and was kind of mad that you had to make an appointment to take the road test. She actually thought you just walk in there, fill out a form, and then ... go.

The proctor told us to position the car in the Road Test Only spot and wait for him. We were 20 minutes early. While we waited in the car,  I last-minute quizzed him on everything on the sheet. The proctor came out and had him do the arm signals and the safety check with the lights and the emergency brake.

"It says here you took the test once before," the man said. "What did you fail on?"

"Arm signals, sir." Geoff answered. The man smiled.

"Yes, the state does feel that is very important and we start there. So you didn't get to drive at all?"

"No sir, that is what brings us here today."

"West Newbury? How long did it take to get here?"

I answered "About 90 minutes, construction and traffic." He nodded and told me that this week he'd had people there from Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, and he shook his head. I told him that we wanted an appointment closer to home but we took what was available first.

We departed, the proctor continued to be friendly and chatty, turning over his shoulder to talk to me. I wasn't sure if he was baiting me as I know that when you are in the back, you're not supposed to talk to anyone in the front seat.

I kept my answers to a minimum. When he asked Geoff questions, the boy's answers were cordial, and articulate.  Borderline charming while being incredibly serious.

The man asked him "So, you're 18. Are you in high school or college?" Geoff answered and let him know what he was up to. The man seemed impressed with the EMT program.

Part of me wished I'd put the "I'm proud of my Eagle Scout" sticker on the back of the car to make G look even more awesome.

"Geoff," the man asked, "are we going to have enough gas to do this test? Your gauge is on empty." Geoff answered that our gauge doesn't work so when the tripometer gets to 300 miles we refill the tank, we just have to remember to reset the counter when we do that. "We have only 168 miles on the counter so far sir, so I think we'll be fine."

The man smiled broadly and I thought, God... I love my kid and his seriousness.

The boy executed a 3 point turn flawlessly, but messed up a few other things. We started to drive back to the registry with no parallel parking so I started to think "aw crap... no. He's so gonna fail him," but he didn't.

"Geoff," he said "I'm going to pass you. But here are the things I think you need to work on, and I would recommend you spend a little more time practicing. Some of them you'll never use again, but they're important." When Geoff had to back up 100 feet in reverse, which he did perfectly, he didn't turn around and look over his shoulder. You're supposed to.

Doug had been working with him to teach him how to use his side mirrors because if he's ever driving an ambulance, he won't have the ability to turn and look over his shoulder - you can't see out that way.

I wanted to explain to the man but kept my mouth shut. Geoff did it perfectly, and I think that's all that mattered.

And like that. 10 minutes. Done. Certified. Legal.

We drove home and stopped at Wendy's for celebration lunch and I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it.

Last night when Doug got home he suggested we go out for dinner but Geoff wanted to drive out to the Chinese restaurant and pick up take-out. So we called it in and he left in the Jeep. He was gone forever and I started to panic and worry... he got pulled over, he's dead in a ditch... but he came back and said the order took forever to complete, so that's why he was late returning.

This morning I woke up at 4am in a panic because I realized he'd be driving to school today. Driving on his own. To school. In Lawrence. Once a month his program has a Saturday session, so today was the day.  Jeeeesh. Panic! Worry! Argh!

I heard him go downstairs and followed. I offered to ride shotgun since he didn't have a parking permit, and I'd bring the car back and then come get him and he'd drive again. We'd take the BMW.  Heated seats. Superior comfort. Advanced German Engineering.

He could drive, and I'd remain silent while he made his road choices because I wanted to know that he knew 100% how to get there without me telling him.

But then I looked on the school website and saw that we could register for the permit, and he could park in the lot without difficulty if he put the receipt on the dashboard.

And he left. In the Jeep. Which will become his Jeep I think. With time.

I'll be nervous until he gets home... I think it'll take me a while to get comfortable with this new reality.

He hugged me before he left, and thanked me for all the patience and support. For going with him, for quizzing him, for giving him tips and instruction, and for figuring out the parking permit thing. He never gives hugs, so I was stunned ... I happily accepted it and told him it was my pleasure.

He asked me where were good nearby but far away parks to go hike that he can drive to on his own, with Brodie.

He asked if we need him to go grocery shopping this week.

He wants to drive, and I think I'm going to have to want to let him.


  1. Zanti Misfit4:37 PM

    Your headline is a lie. There is no where anywhere in this story that you prove to be a bad mom. You sound like a great mom to me.

    1. Well, the me not trusting his driving skill. the me who just about took a Xanax just to get in the car with him as the driver. In every other aspect of this kid's life I've really done what I think is an exceptional job of being brave and calm and man alive - i just could not do that in this case.

      doug would get mad at me when I'd go somewhere with Geoff and get behind the wheel instead of hand him the keys.

      and I should say - Doug was a saint in all of this. taught him to drive, took him out every weekend and many weeknights. Screamed at the top of his lungs when geoff merged horribly into traffic and almost killed them both but hey -- he got back in the car with the boy and gave it another shot every time.

      I just couldn't do it. Could barely get in the car. I would sit in the back seat and pray to Jesus, Buddha, Allah, anyone anyone anyone to get me home safe.

      That's why I'm the bad mom in this...

  2. Franny4:52 PM

    <3 this. G has grown so much in the years I've been following y'all.

  3. I don't think we had to do the arm signal thing, but then again it was a long time ago, and OH. are all states the same? I do see bikes and people in cars using their arms (which pisses me off, because...use your damn signal), but I must say I'm surprised it's on the test.

    1. I didn't either, and I got my license here in MA in like 1988 or something. I do wish the registry put more emphasis on rules of the road (i.e.: yield!) and who has the right of way in the rotary, and 4 way stops... that kind of thing. but i'm not the boss.

  4. I am verklempt. I actually teared up reading this. Please tell Geoff I am very proud of him.

    1. Dear Erin - I don't think I've met you so thank you very very much for your comment and for being proud of the boy. this was a big deal. I'm super happy he made it.

    2. I'm a lurker and have followed you since the kids were tiny. Maybe 2000? As you said, it's a big deal. Worthy of coming out and applauding.

  5. Congratulations to Geoff!!!

    Also, your line about never seeing hand signals caught my attention: I have seen them ONCE. One time, a biker in front of me in my car used them in Boston, somewhere near Huntington Ave. I didn't know the signals. I thought he was waving me to pass him, but in fact, he was signaling he'd be turning. I sped up, but then caught myself just in time before I hit him. I re-learned them that night, embarrassed I'd almost made a terrible mistake. I wish they were known and used consistently by all parties, but that was the first and last time I saw them, until moving out of the US.

    1. Excellent story Jamie! Wow! Glad you figured it out before anything bad happened. Yeah - I have issues with bikers in boston overall. treat us like a vehicle but we'll only behave like it when we want to. Red light running, not using the bike lanes... not stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk... riding on the sidewalk (I have almost been hit twice each in both of those last 2 scenarios).


  6. I still remember riding with my friend Valerie in high school just after she got her license. She was driving very cautiously (appropriate for a new driver!). I think someone honked at her, and she actually said out loud and aimed at him, "I only just got my license, do you think I know everything about how to drive yet?!" Being afraid of riding in cars, this alarmed me. But she's still around, and so am I. Good for you doing the mom thing so well even when you were flipping out. You're both gonna make it, too. :)