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Cam Marston on Teaching His Kids to Drive

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On today’s Keepin’ It Real, Cam Marston tells of a right of passage he’s been through twice before, but it doesn’t make going through it again any easier.

A ballistic object is defined as something that behaves like a projectile. However, when you and I refer to a ballistic object we usually mean something that goes fast and when it hits something else it causes lots of damage. Ballistic missiles come to mind.

A car can become a ballistic object. They can go fast and if it collides with something else the damage can be awful. And mature drivers know this, and self-preservation keeps their automobile ballistic object running safely and under control.

However, I’m writing this in my head while in the passenger seat of my car, my feet pressing against the floorboard, hands grabbing for anything secure, and my mind racing: “Should I grab the wheel? This has to eventually get less scary, right? I just gotta survive, show confidence, and find things to compliment.” Behind the wheel is my fifteen-year-old daughter.

A rite of passage for every teen is learning to drive. A rite of passage for every parent is teaching a teen to drive. No amount of handling a car in an empty parking lot or on a dirt road prepares a teen for their first merge onto a busy interstate at 65 miles an hour. Nothing prepares the parent for this, either. No amount of explaining that hand over hand is the best way to turn the steering wheel can make a teen understand that it’s safe to accelerate out of a turn and unsafe to accelerate into one. Only the horrifying feeling of the car being nearly out of control teaches that. And the parent feels it, too.

In my yard, early one morning, many years back, I watched a car come slowly around the corner and run right into my mailbox. From the passenger seat came a man who began apologizing profusely, his face a combination of embarrassment and anger, and behind the wheel was his fifteen-year-old daughter. They were driving quiet streets early in the morning to teach her to manage the car. He’ll have the mailbox repaired Monday, he said, and he’s very, very sorry. I smiled, told him my day was coming, and not to worry. He thanked me, embarrassment still all over his face, and they drove away, still way too far on the right side of the road.

Well, my day is right now. It’s right now. My wife and I have already done this with our two older children. We can do it again.

My daughter pulls into the garage. “How did I do?” she asks. “Better,” I say. “Much better.” It’s the truth. She climbs out. I stay put and in climbs her twin brother.

“Let’s do this!” he says, a little too full of energy for my comfort, throws the car into reverse and starts rolling. “Stop!” I say, “Look over your shoulder and at the back up camera before the car even begins moving.” And it begins again. My feet pushing holes in the floorboard.

I'm Cam Marston, just trying to Keep It Real. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, everyone.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.