Joanne Palmer: Ignorance and peace of mind
May 29, 2012
"Do not sing along with Bob," my son, Peter, admonishes me loudly.
"If I have to listen to Bob wail, why can't I sing?"
"Bob is not wailing. He has the voice of an angel."
"But I need to sing 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' to keep myself calm."
"I'm the one teaching you to drive!"
I sigh. I'd sink lower into the seat, but I'm on high alert as I watch the road for every potential danger. My neck hurts from swiveling it in every direction looking for pedestrians, cars and motorcycles. I have said the same thing so many times, I am sure he no longer is listening: Watch for bicyclists. Watch for joggers. Especially watch for mothers and baby joggers. Most of all, watch for any balls rolling onto the road.
One bright red ball is the only thing I remember from driver's ed 40 years ago. We sat in a dark room practicing our driving skills in a simulated environment. I did not think it was a big deal as I watched a red ball roll slowly on the road. Then, a frantic 3-year-old came racing into the road to capture it.
To aid his learning, Peter put together a playlist of his favorite music by Bob Marley, Collie Buddz, Cali P and Eddy Grant to blast in the car.
To aid my learning about the best way to teach him, I consulted Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski. She's the author of "The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go."
"The best way to teach teens how to drive is to show them how to really see the road," she said. While experienced drivers look ahead, "a teenager drives down a street, focused on holding the steering wheel straight, accelerating and braking smoothly — and appearing cool.
"Say right out loud what you see as you drive and what you do to drive safely: 'Signal a left turn about 100 feet before the intersection, start slowing down, stop completely in back of the limit line, look both directions for traffic, check for pedestrians who have the right of way.'"
While this sounds good in theory, the book falls short of advising you how to respond when your teenager snaps, "I know. I know. I'm driving, not you. Have I had an accident yet?"
The book continues, "Now it's your teen driver's turn to describe what they see as you drive narrating what a good driver should be seeing and doing to drive safely. Listen as your teen describes your driving."
Is she nuts? Clearly, she never has tried to teach her hormonal offspring how to drive. Here is the feedback I get: "You are too distracted! Quit looking in your purse for things. Put your phone down. Both hands on the wheel!"
I never worried about my blood pressure, gray hair or insomnia until my son started practicing his driving. So far, he has been pretty good. He does keep both hands on the wheel, shows absolutely no interest in his phone — a real rarity — and unless I'm barking instructions, he's pretty quiet.
And yet, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the risk of a crash or crash death is highest at age 16. The deadliest month is June; the deadliest day is Saturday; and the deadliest hours are from 6 to 9 p.m.
Therefore, next year when he turns 16, there will be no driving Saturday nights in June.
I figure this driving thing can go one of two ways. Either I will gain an errand slave, a son who willingly jumps to do my bidding — grocery store, recycling and post office — or I will lose my car and my mind.
I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, I think I'm going to stop reading. In this case, ignorance may help me sleep.