The golden rule of driving with your children

My 15-year-old has her driver's permit. As soon as she turns 16 and finishes a driver's-education course, she gets her unrestricted license. Too soon she will join the parade of adolescents cruising from mall to mall, movie theater to movie theater.

Suddenly, I am acutely aware of my family's driving shortcomings.

My husband and I never considered ourselves driving demons, but apparently the evidence our children have accumulated shows otherwise.

All through those pre-driving years, my husband and I innocently thought our daughters were oblivious to everything except whether one sister's foot had maliciously crossed into the other sister's territory. Wrong. They were memorizing every driving mishap, so that when they got behind the wheel, they'd be armed against any criticism we dared throw their way.

"You should brake more gradually. Don't jerk to a stop," my husband says.

"That's how you do it," the 13-year-old says from her back-seat perch next to me.

Her sister behind the wheel nods agreement.

I smell a conspiracy.

"Don't forget your turn signal," I offer.

"Sometimes you forget yours. Remember when we were in Arkansas...." The 13-year-old accomplice launches into detailed descriptions of various times when my husband or I failed to signal properly. We can't rebut the accusations since we didn't have the foresight to take notes when these alleged lapses occurred. Our daughters, in contrast, were taking careful, copious notes, accumulating ammunition.

When we criticize our daughter for speeding or switching lanes abruptly, she responds with reminders of her father's driving habits. My husband acts the hare to my tortoise. While I am the hesitant driver, oblivious to impatient honks, believing slow and steady wins the race, my husband switches from lane to lane, always searching out the fastest route.

When, on the other hand, we suggest our driving daughter should switch lanes, she mentions my habit of staying in one lane as long as possible, no matter how frustratingly slow it proves.

When we ever-so-gently remind her to keep her attention on the road, she not-so-gently reminds us of our constant commentary on what we're seeing as we drive. She's right again.

My husband and I are guilty of sometimes - OK, often - paying more attention to roadside attractions than to roads. But with our years of driving experience, we tell her, we also manage to monitor the street while inspecting those wayside wonders. She smirks knowingly. Her sister snorts her disbelief at our self-delusions.

Consider this a warning, those of you with children not yet old enough to drive. Though you may not realize it, your children are watching, and watching carefully. Trust me: When you get behind the wheel, drive unto others as you will one day want to have your children drive unto you.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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