The driving need to find a quiet place to learn

"MOM, WHEN CAN WE go out driving?" Are there any words that strike so much terror in the heart of a parent? But there they were, spoken by my 15-year-old daughter, Raisa, who's in hot pursuit of a driver's permit.

Now, I'm not a neophyte about this student-driving business. After all, I went through this earlier with my 18-year-old son. But he was enamored of cars. He celebrated his 16th birthday by going down to the DMV and passing his driver's test with flying colors.

My daughter, on the other hand, is more like me. A bit more tentative. A little more hesitant. Driving is just one more goal on her long list of "things to accomplish" before she graduates from high school.

As I drove her home from yet another driving lesson, she asked me about my own experiences learning to drive.

How well I can still remember. One bright summer afternoon, my usually patient father decided I was old enough to get some experience behind the wheel (and, in truth, I think he was getting tired of driving me everywhere).

The idea of being in control of a car - such a huge and powerful machine - both thrilled and terrified me. As I inched along the street, my knuckles white on the steering wheel, other drivers flew past me. I couldn't blame them. I was probably traveling about five miles an hour.

I couldn't wait to get to our destination so I could relinquish my driving responsibilities to my father. I kind of hoped that after that first "adventure," he would stop encouraging me to drive ... but nooooo. The next weekend, he insisted that we set off again.

As I drove along this time, I became increasingly confident. Driving wasn't so hard after all. As I was merrily speeding along, he noticed a hairpin turn coming up.

"Brake, Valerie," he warned.

"Don't worry," I responded with all my 16-year-old bravado. "I can handle it."

"You can't take it at this speed," he said, his voice growing louder. "Brake now. Brake now! Slow down!"

As I hit the turn, I turned the wheel confidently and discovered, to my surprise, that the car wasn't turning quite as I had anticipated. When the car came to a stop, we were stuck in a cornfield.

"What do I do now?" I asked my father.

"You get out of the car, and I drive home," was his angry response.

Even switching teachers didn't help. During driver's training at school, I somehow managed to maneuver the huge yellow station wagon, used by the driving students, right smack into the middle of a funeral procession.

What a sight to behold. A long line of solemn-looking cars with their headlights on. And there in the center, looking like the Beatles' yellow submarine, a station wagon filled with teenagers, and one embarrassed-looking teacher. On top of the car was a huge sign: "Student Driver." (As if anyone needed to be told!)

My daughter doubled over with laughter. "What did your instructor do?" she asked.

"As I recall, he held his hands over his face and told me to make the first safe, legal right turn that I could."

So now it will be my turn to sit in the passenger seat while my daughter navigates my white Hyundai. But first I have to find a road that has a nice cornfield beside it.

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