Teens drive -- parents drive them crazy

June 10, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

SEE IF YOU can guess the problem here, OK?

Every time I get in the car these days, I'm edgy and find myself snapping at the person next to me.

Sometimes I think we're going too fast. Then I think we're going too slow.

Sometimes I think we're going to sideswipe the traffic on our left, then all of a sudden I think we're going to shear off the side-view mirror of the car on our right.

So what do you think it is?

Severe anxiety disorder?

Vertigo?

Raging inner-ear infection that's thrown the body's internal gyroscope out of whack?

Actually, the correct guess would be: "Your 16-year-old just got his driving permit and now he wants to get behind the wheel all the time and it's turning you into a basket case."

And here's the thing: Actually, the kid drives pretty well.

Oh, sure, he's got the touch of a grape-stomper on the gas pedal.

And we've taken a few turns that you normally see only from the getaway car at a bank robbery.

But all in all, he's doing fine behind the wheel.

No, he's not the problem.

I'm the problem.

How can the kid concentrate on driving when his old man's flipping out in the passenger seat?

The ironic part is, I vowed this would never, ever happen.

A hundred years ago, when I got my permit and my mother would take me out driving, she wore the same relaxed look as someone caught in the middle of a stampede.

As I drove, her hands would be locked in a death-grip on the dashboard, as if anticipating a massive, head-on collision at any moment.

And this was when I was backing out of the driveway.

Once we were on the road, it seemed as if she stopped breathing entirely.

She never took her eyes off the road. Never looked out the window. Never looked up. Never looked down.

I could have said: "Mom, I think a B-52 with all four engines on fire just crash-landed in that field over there," and she would have continued to stare straight ahead while saying: "Watch out for this station wagon up ahead ..."

The other thing that drove me nuts when I was behind the wheel were all her little gasps of terror.

If the speed limit was 30 mph and I hit 31, she'd gasp.

If I passed another car, she'd gasp. If another car passed me, she'd gasp.

You might not think the sound of someone gasping is all that annoying. But, believe me, if it's just you and someone else in a Ford Falcon with the windows rolled up in the dead of winter, that gasping will drive you nuts.

Anyway, I promised myself years ago: When my kids are learning to drive, I'm going to be nice and relaxed in the car with them.

So much for that idea ...

Not only am I nervous and hypercritical, but every time we're out driving together, I find myself telling all these ridiculously overstated stories, such as: "You didn't come to a complete stop at that stop sign. Y'know, if a policeman sees you do that, he'll throw you in jail for, I don't know, 10 years at least.

"Then when you get out, you won't be able to get a job and your whole life will be over and you'll wind up sleeping face-down on a greasy back table in an all-night diner at 2 in the morning."

Boy, that's great. That'll really fill the kid with confidence -- thinking that every time he makes a mistake on the road, he's going to the slammer.

Of course, if there's anything harder than a kid learning to drive with one psycho parent in the car, it's a kid learning to drive with two psycho parents in the car.

We tested this theory the other day when the boy asked to drive home from the mall. I was in the passenger seat; my wife sat in the back seat with a death-grip on the door-handle.

The kid had barely pulled out of the parking lot before we both started barking instructions.

"You're going too fast," my wife said.

"Use your turn signal here," I said.

"OK, speed up, there's a car behind you," my wife said.

Boy, that must be a lot of fun: being nagged in stereo.

I thought to myself: If this kid doesn't wind up in therapy after this one, it'll be a minor miracle.

Anyway, in a week or so, the boy goes for his driving test. Which should be a piece of cake after what he's gone through with his mom and dad.

As I told my wife, I don't mind paying for the road test.

It's the bills from the shrink that worry me.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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