Road Test: What a Red Light Taught Me About Patience

I had passed my driving test long ago. Gone was the stress of when to merge into traffic, when to mash the brakes, and Mom’s horrified face as I backed onto the highway we lived on. Now I endured new driving lessons.

After the imminent death of my Ford Escort, a sleeker Toyota Corolla took its place. Dad and I had shopped for this one. It was the sunroof that sealed the deal. The only little snag was that I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I picked up the motions quickly after a few lessons, though I still managed the occasional spine-shifting grinding when I missed a gear. In no time I would be driving that baby around town: sunroof open, permed hair blowing in the wind, Edie Brickell tape blaring. When my dad took me out on the road for one last test, we realized he had forgotten something very important.

Life on the coast meant flat streets. No sledding hills. No grassy slopes to roll down in summertime. Just manmade overpasses and ramps. As we headed home after my road test, I stopped at a red light near the top of an overpass. I realized I didn’t know how to keep the car from rolling. Dad told me what to do but when the light turned green, I nearly rolled into the car behind me. I watched in my rearview mirror, helpless and screeching, “What do I do?!” as headlights grew closer. Horns honked. We jerked back and forth like a rodeo bull and the car stalled. My dad chuckled and I panicked. Cars sped around us. The light and my cheeks turned red. I would never get through this light. And worse, someone might see me! Anyone!

Again, the light turned green and again I tried to slowly lift my foot off the clutch and tap the gas, but we rolled back. The car jerked. I wanted to switch seats and let my father bail me out. He comfortably reclined in the passenger seat as if it were his own brown La-Z-Boy knock-off, urging me to stay calm. I could do this, he said.

But I couldn’t be calm. A look in my rearview mirror again revealed flashing blue lights. “Oh, no. I’m going to get a ticket,” I thought. But no officer ever approached my car. “He just knows I’m an idiot. What if I roll back into him?” After a few more tries and with what sounded like ten NASCAR engines, I finally gunned it through the light.

My dad immediately led me down the road to a less-traveled area, found a ramp, and let me practice until I got it right. It didn’t take long.

My dad seemed so cool and calm as I freaked out. We could have argued as I so often do now with my kids. He could have lost his patience with me as I easily do these days, trying to get my kids to see that they are capable. How come I didn’t get that sense of calm? I always punish myself for not being a more patient parent. Sometimes I get it right, but I think the truth has always been there: I’m the person I always was. Even more, at their core, my kids will probably always be who they are now.

Of course, it doesn’t mean I still can’t try to find that calm. I can take a breath, try again, and remember that maybe I am capable, as a parent, a driver, a person. Maybe Dad’s lesson reached far beyond the wheel.

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41 Comments

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41 responses to “Road Test: What a Red Light Taught Me About Patience

  1. I love this story! It reminds me of my dad teaching me to drive and how calm he always was when I thought I had ‘struck disaster’! 🙂

  2. An auto sales person actually taught me how to drive stick. I am still amazed to this day what he was willing to go through for a sale. (He didn’t get it, sadly.) Your dad sounds like a saint.

    • Wow, that is impressive! Maybe he didn’t get you but I bet he got some others.

      I bought another car that was a stick after that, but never again. I’m done with them! And my dad really was always patient. The only time he ever got a little flustered was when he tried to teach me math. I think we all know how my math skills turned out.

  3. wow… I think your dad is really patient! I need to be able to find that calmness within me.

  4. Lisa

    Funny story. Somehow I can picture you freaking out perfectly. It’s almost as entertaining as when I was watching my sister stall out her manual in our driveway over and over again.

    • You know the hill I’m talking about, right? I thought backing out of our driveway was bad, highway plus a ditch on each side. I’m not sure I could do that now.

      • Lisa

        Yeah I remember that hill – it’s still there. haha I always forget that intersection was put in before you moved away.

  5. As a mother who’s just now teaching her oldest son to drive. I admire your dad’s patience. So far, I’ve been good with my son, and he’s doing great, but we haven’t tackled any busy streets yet. I suspect my panic would start up if we got into a situation like you were in. Just thinking about it makes me need some deep breaths…

    • Thankfully, it wasn’t a hugely busy street, but the stress of not being in control was horrifying. But my dad was right. I needed to know what to do. As a mom, I would have flipped!

  6. ::heard on approaching a junction (although I promise it wasn’t me)::

    “OK, slow down and stop at the junction…stop at the junction…stop now…STOP…stop NOW….NO, keep going, KEEP GOING!”

    Well done to your dad. I refused to get in a car to drive with my parents there too. Even now, at the age of 40 I won’t drive either of them anywhere…

    • I can see myself saying those words. I think there’s a reason you can pay people to teach your kids to drive. I’ll start putting my spare change into a jar.

  7. i think it’s the different perspective of years.i love that your dad is still teaching you things like this. wonderful.

    • I was still a teenager at the time, though I think the scene would have been the same had it happened yesterday. I probably would have been able to laugh a little more. 😉

  8. I would have got out of the car and walked. Good on you for persevering. I am never, ever teaching my children to drive. Incidentally, I am bad at maths too. 🙂

  9. I learned to drive a manual in Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been cussed out in at least four languages as I tried to make it through a light on a steep hill. 🙂

    • What an experience! I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggled on hills. I’m sure the other drivers were cussing me. Thank goodness the windows and sunroof were closed!

  10. A great read as always, Muddledmom.

    The line for patience was too long when I joined the queue so I skipped that one. Even though I’m a teacher I don’t think driver instruction is on my list of skills.

  11. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    ROAD TEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. What a fantastic story you chose to share with us. Oh, that dreaded first time driving a stick and coming off a stop sign on my own — I didn’t think I would ever be able to get through that intersection! People moved around me as I stalled time and time again. My blood pressure still goes up thinking about that. Yours — with a car behind you — must have been a nightmare!!

    I was fortunate to never have to use that delicate technique of revving and clutching with my VW bug to keep from rolling backward. The hand brake did the job of holding me in place, which I slowly released as the gears engaged. That, and Houston is, well, pretty flat. Very few parking-on-a-slope opportunities, but plenty of floating-in-a-flood ones.

    Neither of my parents had patience, which I think “made me” develop a less frantic plan when a situation called for it. I rarely lose it with my children — never with others — but I remain frustrated (as you) when each is not living up to his/her full potential. That’s just being a mom. I’ll bet you have more of your dad’s patience than you think. And I’ll bet you’re going to be an extraordinary mother when the time comes to be in the passenger seat with your kids.

    • I don’t know, Shannon. The thought of being in the passenger seat with them already makes me want to scream! If riding in bumper cars with my son gives me any indication, it’s going to be a tough ride. 😉

      • First time I was passenger-ing with my son (10 at the time) was in a go cart. It was harrowing. No “bumpers” either. I was firmly strapped in, thank you. He apologizes to this day for doing the opposite of what he wanted to do (stop) as he drove us right into a tree stump, hitting the gas instead of the brake.

        Sigh. It’s coming. And you’re right, it’s gonna be rough! It’s why I’m keeping the 9-yr-old minivan.

  13. Your kids probably inherited your father’s mellow nature? 🙂 My brother taught me how to drive, and he was so not like your dad! He yelled and the more he yelled the more I froze and the more his patience ran out hehehehe.

    • The jury is still out on that one. They can be calm and mellow, but they also know how to freak out under pressure. I’m sure that’s from seeing me do it so many times. 😉

  14. I had a very different experience when my dad tried to teach me to drive a stick shit, it ended with lots of expletives. hahaha On the bright side, I KNOW where I get my lack of patience from. 🙂

  15. I’m late to this, but I loved it. I can remember my Dad teaching me how to drive. He once put his hand on the dashboard as he was talking and realized that it might look like I was making him nervous. He quickly snatched it back.

    When it was my turn, I was shouting “Jacob move to the left — YOU’RE NEARLY IN THE DITCH.” Sigh. I’ve done better with other things, though!

  16. I wish I had your dad’s patience. With that type of demeanor, I am sure he was a great parent.

    • Yes, he never spazzed out over anything that I can remember, not like I do anyway! But sometimes I think we have selective memories too. 😉

      • My children’s memory is going to have to be very selective for them to recall a dad that never got angry!

      • Well, maybe it won’t be so often! And maybe by then they’ll think it’s funny. I know what you mean. After a really bad meltdown of my own, I always think, “I hope that’s one they forget.”

      • I would love it if they forgot or thought it was funny.
        I do think that I have become a bit more patient – or at least I scream less and I can’t remember my last meltdown (hope I did not give myself bad luck).

      • I like to think of it as “growing with my kids.” But I think that’s probably how it’s not supposed to happen.

      • I think growing with your kids sounds very good. Think of it, you are new to parenting as they are new to life. Neither role comes with a clear manual. You grow into your roles with bumps along the way.

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