Parallel parking in a parallel universe

(or, why wasn't teaching a teen to drive covered in those Lamaze classes?)

By Anthony Buccino

That tiny tot has reached the age
where that old hunk of rubber and rusting metal rattling
in the driveway has suddenly become the ticket to freedom.

Learning to drive can be fun. Really. Taking the small round wheel of the four-wheeled contraption, two-tones to the floorboard, we’re on our way to where the fun is.

You want to drive MY car? Even the family dog has daydreams about grabbing the keys to the station wagon and heading off to the drive-through window where food magically appears your way.

“You want fries with that?’

“Woof. Woof. Ah-ooh!”

It is teaching someone else to drive that strikes panic in every parent.

First comes the realization that that little baby you once held in your hand has somehow, when you looked away, obviously, grown up.

That tiny tot has reached the age where that old hunk of rusting metal and rubber rattling in the driveway has suddenly become the ticket to freedom.

There’s no place like home, you find yourself muttering. Why would anyone want to drive at all? Everything you need you have at home. If you don’t have it at home, you don’t need it. Period. Case closed. And a very hollow case at that.

Then there is that teenager who has, in spite of all your efforts at hiding the birth certificate, forgetting to visit the DMV, still found a way to obtain that important piece of paper: a learner’s permit.

And there is no way around it. The time has come to take to the road. With that teen behind the wheel, and you longing for a passenger’s side airbag and an extra brake pedal. Not to mention a spare steering wheel.

Teaching the little one to drive is easier than teaching them about the birds and the bees. High up in the trees the time comes when the birds chirp frantically as the little ones finally have outgrown the nest and must fall or fly.

Perhaps it would be easier to teach a teenager to fly than to drive. But that is not an option, as your teen waves the learner’s permit, “C’mon, Pop. Let’s go . . . I’ll drive.”

Keys in hand, your teen is nearly flying out the door and floating down the driveway on winged feet. Your feet seem to be in cement shoes as you inch towards the passenger seat.

The car door is as heavy as a building. It takes all your strength to pull it open, and yet more strength and undivided determination to climb aboard. It has come to this.

Your teenager is about to drive you, no, not crazy as she has always done, but something more scary than that, in the family car.

Most parents who accept the challenge of taking their youngsters out for driving lessons report a phenomenon that in spite of the speedometer pointing at 20 MPH, the car is actually flying along at 80 MPH - even as your child backs out of the driveway.

Another observation is that all the cars are parked terribly far away from the curb as your child is forced to drive along the left curb to avoid cars parked on the right.

Other drivers lose any perception of courtesy when they see you and your child on the road. That’s when other drivers crowd your car from behind and your child learns international sign language for not nice things.

No other drivers ever come to a full and complete stop, as you are trying to teach your teen. “You call that a full stop?”

“Dad, we’ve been stopped here for five minutes, can we go now?”

Your perception of passing time changes completely when you teach your teen to drive. After hours and hours on the road, you finally relax your white-knuckled grip of the door handle and say, “Let’s head on home now. Don’t want to overdo it on the first day.”

“But, Dad, we didn’t even go around the block.”

The true test of parent-child bonding does not surface in the delivery room. No, it is in the team challenge to attacking the objective and achieving the high standards set by the State of New Jersey. In other words, getting the kid to parallel park. Now there’s a bonding experience.

Before you take your teen out to parallel park, you quietly set off on your own and try to remind yourself of whatever it was your parents taught you about how to master the deft skill of parallel parking.

Too many striped slots at the supermarket and too few trips downtown have left you a bit rusty. After a few tries, you find you can still do it with the best of them.

There might still be time to get your kid to swear off driving if only you could think of the right trade-off.

Rambling Round, Inside and Outside at the Same Time by Anthony Buccino“How about, instead of learning to drive, I get you one of those expensive mountain bikes I always read about getting stolen in the police blotter? No. Huh? How about a super-duper high-powered computer with every blast-em-up game ever made?

“No? How about your own phone? Your own TV? Your own room? Your own apartment in a building where you never have to go outside to shop? Your own credit card? How about your own parallel universe where you never have to parallel park?”

But all your teen wants is to drive. Yes, your car, your gas, your teen-aged driver insurance surcharge, and your restless sleepless nights waiting for your teenager to get home from wherever he took the family car.

Teaching your teenager to drive is something that should have been discussed much earlier. Perhaps they should have added it those long ago Lamaze classes.

At least you would have had some time to try to remember how to parallel park. And 17 years to worry about teaching your youngster everything you know about how to drive, not to mention parallel park.

First published Oct. 30, 1997, in The Independent Press of Bloomfield, Worrall Community Newspapers.

Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND  Inside and Outside at the Same Time

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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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