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Published: Thursday, 8/4/2005

Learning to drive puts Mom under microscope

She was very matter-of-fact in her criticism.

"That," she stated authoritatively, "was an illegal lane change."

She was in the passenger's seat, headphones on, eyes scanning for her mother's every misstep.

It's not that my child is trying to criticize me these days.

She's just applying her newly gained knowledge of Ohio traffic laws, and I'm the poor sap who's usually behind the wheel.

In other words, my driving habits constitute her driving pop quizzes.

"You didn't put on your turn signal."

Well, I mean, I almost always use my turn signal. This one time, this just happened to be an atypical oversight, that's all.

"You know, Mom, a yellow light means you're supposed to slow down, not speed up. Plus, isn't the speed limit here 35?"


And so my decades of relatively incident-free driving add up to nothing.

I am under constant observation now, my driving skills relentlessly scrutinized, my obedience to traffic laws grounds for discussion.

Well, it's just as my godmother always said: More is caught than taught.

Her whole life, I have gone out of my way to make sure I do things like let other drivers slide in front of me when they're in a parking lot waiting to turn into traffic.

This, I've long assured myself, not only demonstrates roadway civility, but it underscores the idea that one goes through life taking into account other people - that it's not just about you.

But now? What's most readily apparent to my child now is whether I signal my turns (almost always) or creep above the speed limit (well, occasionally - but I don't mean to!).

What's also more readily apparent to her is whether I, um, keep it together. The first time she ever got behind the wheel, we were in a vast, unused parking lot.

We sat first for a moment, engine idling, both awe-struck at the momentousness of the occasion.

And then she grinned - a scary, Jack Nicholson grin - and put the transmission into gear as I fought the urge to hyperventilate.

What I remembered suddenly was that phase (she was, what, 7 months old?) when she'd lift herself up off her belly and onto her hands and knees, and then rock back and forth like a demon, hoping for enough forward momentum to crawl.

The next thing I knew, she'd conquered crawling and was hurtling across an empty parking lot behind the wheel of a 3,000-plus-pound car.

OK, 15 miles per hour isn't hurtling.

But, still.

She's since graduated from parking lots to quiet back streets, so we haven't made it past 25 mph so far.

And certainly, neither of us is ready for her to navigate traffic-heavy roadways just yet.

But I do know that what goes around comes around. The karma of full-out city driving awaits, and soon enough I'll be the one glancing furtively at the speedometer.

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