Maine Thruway Trip Reminds Her: Timing is Everything
Daughter's 60-minute driving experience was memorable.
White knuckling the car door, I am holding on for my life.
"Mom, stop doing that, you're freaking me out," she pleads.
My daughter is freaking me out by driving on the Maine Thruway acting as though she's driven it 100 times, when it is time Numero Uno. She inches closer to the white line.
"Practice keeping the car in the center of the lane. Smack in the middle."
Smack. Not my most inspired word choice given the circumstances.
I keep one eye on the road and the other on our daughter, a student with five more lessons to go at her driving school. My third eye, the one I've grown expressly for this trip, fixes on the dashboard clock. Time moves with the swiftness of soup approaching a boiling point. My fear simmers while I watch the digits turn over to 30 seconds. We've got another 59 minutes and 30 seconds to go of the hour of road time we've promised her.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. My husband has stationed himself in the backseat wearing his sunglasses and his best blank expression that says he's tortured but in the easy seat. I am the parent in charge of our daughter's driving today. If we all die in a crash, it will be on my head.
Without warning, he ignores a parent manual bylaw: When two parents are riding in the car, only one parent instructs their child on driving. Heed the law or the novice driver succumbs to confusion, hard braking, fish tailing, and indecision.
We have been driving behind a truck the length of a city block for 15 minutes. This is 14 minutes too long for my husband's punch it and pass it driving style. Plastered all over the truck are these signs: Flammable. Caution. Liquid Oxygen. I pontificate about the three car-length rule to my daughter and she keeps her distance.
From the rear, a steady voice floats into the front, "Do you think you can pass the truck?"
"I think so," she replies. Last week, she more than passed her biology test with an A. It seems to me she was equating one type of passing with the other. She was unprepared for this pop quiz of the road.
I glare at my husband using the only facial muscles not rendered immovable by panic. I fantasize myself into full scuba gear and imagine sucking in gulps of air from a tank on my back. My lungs had stopped inflating since my daughter pushed the pedal to 65.
She signals and moves into the left lane, driving neck and neck with the combustible cab of the truck. We urge, "Speed up!" She slows to 40. We scream, "Get back into the right lane!" We are within hand shaking distance of the truck driver and his questionable cargo, when we swerve slightly in his direction.
We yell in unison, "Stay straight!" The digital clock ticks in time to the sweat seeping into the waistband of my jeans. She manages to get back to the right-hand lane. I exhale. From the safety of the slow lane, she practices driving with the flow of highway traffic. She changes lanes when both lanes are clear for miles.
Timing is everything in life. It's the difference between life and death on the highway. Experienced drivers forget that passing isn't common sense; it's a series of well-timed actions that require judgment and confidence.
When we reach the 60-minute mark, we switch drivers. I dry off my waist with a crumpled tissue and massage my sore diaphragm. She tells us she's not tired and wants to drive another hour. We have her take the passenger seat and ask her to observe. She says she learns by doing not watching. My husband is learning to take things slowly and if he speeds things up, it's on his head.