Crazy… Me Driving?

“Why can’t you learn how to drive like Daddy?” wailed my seven-year-old son.

Good question.

It was pouring rain in late November and we were trudging almost a mile home in the dark, barely able to see the sidewalks through the deluge.

I was 46 years old and the only loser mom in our South Jersey suburb who didn’t know how to drive. That meant I was incapable of performing basic grown up tasks like carpooling to Chuck E. Cheese. It meant that my exhausted husband had to do a massive grocery shop every weekend while I lounged at home with the children. It meant my darlings couldn’t do any activities that we couldn’t walk to, which meant they couldn’t do any activities (I cleverly spun this as not over-scheduling). My family was in a state of arrested development because of my baseless fear of driving.

Not that I didn’t have a license. I had failed once then passed aged 21, and that stressful DMV visit was the last time I drove for 25 years. I was a city slicker, so what did it matter?

Fast forward to 2006 — I was living in the Netherlands with my husband, toddler and newborn. I spent most of my time pushing a double stroller. It was finally time to face my demons: I found a Dutch driving teacher with an automatic car and a small client base consisting mostly of terrified adults.

Hans picked me up one Saturday morning and forced me to negotiate the busiest street in our neighborhood, a thru-way crammed with trams, buses, cars and cyclists. Rigid with fright, I inched along at 5 mph, with Hans urging me to “Make Speed!” He looked concerned.

After about six weeks, I was no longer gripping the steering wheel like a roller coaster bar. But as I relaxed, we started gossiping about his other clients – such as the lady who drove confidently for years until her car got crushed between two trucks on the highway, a horror I had never contemplated.

After several months he said, “You’re fine to drive. Just don’t ever bring your kids in the car.”

After six months – or was it eight? – he told me, “Some people aren’t capable of learning how to drive. They can’t combine the skills.”

After 11 months, my husband said, “How many fucking driving lessons are you going to take? This is costing a fortune.”

I gave up and bought a $1,500 Dutch cargo bike with two built-in benches for the kids and a rain canopy. It was like piloting a small barge and my legs looked fabulous from all the pedaling.

In 2011 we moved to suburban New Jersey, where my beloved cargo bike was useless. I was like a middle-aged baby, depending on the kindness of others for food and transportation. I had no choice but to learn.

The second time around it was easier. I signed up for Driver’s Ed with a retired state trooper, who wasn’t nearly as chatty as Hans. I wanted to take at least 20 lessons but he shot that down. In fact, he couldn’t understand what my problem was.

“Your steering is fine, your turns are good. Just do it,” he said. My husband bought me a used station wagon and I was reluctantly pushed out of the nest.

The first time I turned on the car by myself it made a weird whirring noise and refused to start. OMFG, I had turned the key wrong and broken the car! In a strange twist of fate, the battery was dead. On my second outing, I succeeded in picking up my daughter across town. I was shaking, but we didn’t get in an accident.

Then my car inexplicably leaped forward a few times while I was trying to park. Alarmed and confused, I mentioned these incidents to my husband. “Oh, yeah,” he said slowly. “I remember reading something about that online. I think your car might have a surge problem.” Having driven for 30 years, he genuinely thought it was a non-issue.

After I got over the extreme shock that my husband had knowingly bought a defective vehicle for me, I filed a complaint to the Department of Transportation. A recall letter came in the mail a few months later and Ford fixed the problem, free of charge.

Four years later, I weave through city streets and parallel park with aplomb. It turns out I absolutely love driving. Need a ride to South Carolina? No distance is too far.