Learner driver, learner adult – Cathi Henderson

 

A lot of my thinking and reflecting happens on my drive home from work each afternoon. It’s the time of day when I change my teacher hat into a parent hat. Little things about my home, family and specifically my children set my mind racing off on a tangent and the radio often becomes nothing but background noise. A colleague mentioned that he saw me in the traffic the other day. He waved, knocked on his window and hooted, but my thoughts must have already been a million miles away as I was oblivious to his friendliness.

Today’s thought process was sparked by the learner driver sticker on the car in front of me at a traffic light. It got me thinking about how excited I was to stick a ‘Baby in Car’ sticker on my back window when my firstborn arrived. That said child is now officially a learner driver. I really need to get a learner sign stuck on the back window too, in the hope that other drivers will give her just a little bit of patience when she is behind the wheel.

And of course, from there I started drawing so many parallels between a learner driver and a teenager. When my daughter first starts out with her lessons, she will be confined to a parking area, close to home with her dad gently (hopefully) relaying instructions about “giving petrol” and taking her foot slowly off the clutch at the same time. It may take her a while to get it right, but that is to be expected and so Dad will be patient and kind and not allow his inevitable exasperation to actually show.

 

Isn’t it just the same with our teenagers? Although at times, we may not be as patient as we should be, we should really expect that it may take them time to get things right. They are getting comfortable in the driver’s seat, but definitely need us by their side. I see the early stages of teenage-hood as the parking area stage. It can be a rather bumpy ride with jerks and sudden stops and starts, but the surroundings are still pretty safe on the whole. And of course, when a smooth pull-away or gear-change is finally achieved – the feeling of elation has no price tag.

As she becomes more accomplished, she will venture out onto the roads around our quiet suburb, still with Dad at her side, but now going a little faster and interacting more with other drivers and their cars. And then, when she is competent, Mom will finally step in and be more than happy to relinquish her role of Uber driver and simply enjoy the novelty of being chauffeured around by a teenager, who will no doubt be more than happy to go anywhere just to have a little extra time behind the wheel. I have a feeling that we will reach this stage in no time at all. Yet, through this entire process, everything that our learner driver does, will be in the spirit of learning. She will not be expected to get it right every time. She will possibly make mistakes and forget to indicate or look in her mirror before hitting the brakes and the adult sitting next to her will remind her and correct her and hopefully she will get it right the next time. I think the teenage road is so similar – experiencing more and more freedom, progressing from the parking area to the freeway, yet with an adult close at hand to assist and correct when necessary.

Which got me thinking even further…. when we, as adults, are in a car accident – especially if we have caused it – does our licence get taken away? Are we shouted at by our spouses, our families, our friends and colleagues and made to feel inferior? Useless? Unworthy? No, because it was an accident. It was not done intentionally. Maybe it was caused by a lack of concentration on our part. Maybe our minds were a million miles away (guilty as charged)…. maybe we were tired, or perhaps it was a simple lack of judgement…., but we are not bad people because we had a car accident. Are there consequences for our car accident? Yes, there most certainly are! Insurance claims, police stations, panel beaters, lack of independence…..it’s bound to be inconvenient. It isn’t a nice experience at all. But our error does not define us. We are not bad because we had an accident. We are not even a bad driver because we had an accident. It was a mistake. We will hopefully learn from it.

 

And yes, our teenagers will also make mistakes when they are driving – whilst both literally driving on the road and figuratively driving along the road of life. But they are mistakes. And my meandering thoughts reminded me that just as it is so relatively easy to support, encourage and nurture our learner drivers in their quest to progress to become a real driver, we as parents also need to support, encourage and nurture our learner adults. And one day, a long, long, long, very long time from now, when my learner adult is no longer a learner driver and is finally whizzing around on the freeways of Cape Town on her own or with a group of friends, I hope to feel confident that she is well prepared for both life and driving because she had parents who loved her, supported her and didn’t expect her to be perfect while she was learning.

But of course, that’s only going to be in …like…..a million years from now, because it was just yesterday that I was proudly putting the Baby in Car sticker on the back window of my little blue Citi golf….. wasn’t it?

My Child and I, Autumn 2018

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