I’m sitting in the parking lot at the synagogue with Noah.  We are headed home after a morning of Sunday school, except something is different. Noah is behind the wheel, and I am a helpless passenger.  Despite the fact that I have never taught anyone how to drive, and have never given Noah instructions, he is backing out of the parking space, shifting into drive, and proceeding to the main thoroughfare.   My son makes the sharp right turn onto the driveway, but for some reason, he doesn’t straighten the wheel out.  I try to warn him to compensate, but I can’t speak and he hits the retaining wall.  The horrible sound of metal meshing with stone now competes with my voice, which I found about two seconds too late.  I think I hear the soft sound of a pillar hitting the snow covered grass.  Noah turns to me with fear in his eyes.  I will myself to wake up from this dream and find myself warm in my bed.  

No luck.  Because, as much as I wanted it to be, it wasn’t a dream.  We had really and truly crashed my mini-van into the synagogue wall.  It was a 4 m.p.h. crash but enough to knock over the pillar and crumple the front right corner of my officially-no-longer-new-and-unscathed car.  I say “we” crashed because it was as much my fault – and probably more – than it was Noah’s.  In my earnestness to participate in my son’s driver learning experience, I jumped the gun and he jumped the curve.  Lesson learned.  And that was just the beginning.

A few weeks after writing this blog post, Noah passed the test for his driver’s permit in late November.  At that point, Dave immediately took charge, taking him to the high school parking lot to get a feel for the car, then onto the main road which runs by our street so he could practice traffic lights.  All reports back to me were positive and Noah began to ask to drive the car – with Dave by his side – to school and back.

I started to feel a little left out.

So when a clear Sunday came, and I picked Noah up from the synagogue, it seemed to be an opportune time to take MY turn teaching him the rules of the road.

“Wanna drive home?  I asked him.  His eyes widened a bit.

“Can I???”

“Sure!  Let’s go for it.  We’ll take it slow.”

He hadn’t driven with Dave outside our neighborhood yet and we were a good seven or eight miles from home.  But I figured we would take back streets and avoid the tricky spots.  As he turned the ignition, I felt elated.  THIS was what life was all about.  I was teaching my son to ….. crash.

Sixty seconds later, Noah slinked out of the driver’s seat and I took over to remove my embedded mini-van from the wall.  The scraping of metal as I backed away from the point of impact went right to my heart.  Noah felt terrible; I felt even worse.

I mistook my enthusiasm for preparedness.  Neither one of us were ready to do that drive.

I called Dave to warn him about our mishap and the damage to the car and the wall.  I could tell immediately that he was annoyed – not at Noah, but at me.  Rightfully so, but it still smarted and reinforced what I already knew.  I screwed up.

Upon our arrival home, Dave surveyed the damage, tisk-tisked me, and then swooped Noah up to take him driving around the neighborhood so he wouldn’t be spooked about getting behind the wheel, leaving me alone in the house with a heart full of remorse.  It was the right move for Noah, who (of course) performed outstandingly well with his father that day, but not-so-deep down inside, I wished someone would have offered to put me in that passenger seat again – so I wouldn’t get spooked.

“Teaching Your Child to Drive” has officially been filed away in the folder that is marked “Parenting Things You Think Will Be SO Much Fun But Aren’t”.  It will join its brethren including, “Naming You Child,” “Vacationing with Toddlers,” “Halloween,” “Planning a Bar Mitzvah,” and (I suspect) “Visiting Colleges”  Having only experienced these moments from the other side when I was the child, I really thought it would all be so exciting and warm and what memories are made of.   Well.  One out of three is something.

I will remember this.

I will remember that patience is not only a virtue but sometimes, a necessity.  I will remember the regret I felt as soon as Noah hit the wall, wishing I could take back the last five minutes and make another decision.  And I’ll remember the mortified look on his face because Noah thought that he had failed me, when really I had failed him.

I’m somewhat cured of the need to be equally involved with his learning process.  While having him bang up Dave’s car a little might level the parental playing field, I’d rather our accident be the only one he ever has, and me be the lone sacrificial, flawed mentor in his life.

The good news is that I have gotten back in that passenger seat since the fender bender.  That day I wanted Dave to take me in his arms and tell me that its all okay and that I am really a good Mom and teacher who just got a little ahead of herself and that I should jump right back in there.  That didn’t happen.  So I just put my sorry self back in that seat, handed Noah the keys and let him go – this time on the straight and narrow road in front of our house.

He did great.  And so did I.   The highway awaits him… and his father.

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