“You’re so controlling,” Twin A screams as she steers to the side of the road.
This outburst comes after lurching through our neighborhood with a grand finale turn that made me swallow the gum I had been manically chewing to distract me from my death seat position in the car.
Twin A comes to a stop, gets out, and storms down a side street. Twin B, who had been sitting in the back, also flees the car. While running to catch up with her sister, Twin B turns to give me a look of disgust that makes me feel old and mean.
I remain in the passenger seat and take note of how thankful I am to be parked.
A tippy three-legged stool is the best image I have for the relationship between my twin daughters and me during these teenage years. Teaching them to drive has been like sawing off one of the legs.
“We’re gonna walk home,” Twin B calls.
“Fine,” I think poutily as I plunk down in the driver’s seat.
It begins to rain so I loop around and find my driving students walking. They get in the car and the accusations start up immediately.
“We think you are sexist! You were way more laid back when you taught the boys how to drive.”
The sexist branding makes me crazy and they know it. Some variation of this conversation has been constant since the girls’ 16th birthday passed four months ago and they didn’t get their licenses.
It’s true, in the beginning I didn’t worry as much about the boys driving.
My relaxed attitude changed fast after our oldest son ended up under an eighteen wheeler on a snowy Chicago highway and then soon after our younger son embarked on a rogue morning adventure that ended in a car-totaling accident at a four-way stop.
Mercifully no one was hurt during either accident but this double miracle only serves to make me more fearful about the girls driving. I worry that all our family’s accident passes have been used up by the boys.
If that is sexist, then so be it.
To assuage my fears I’ve read all the guides on teaching teenagers to drive. They feature pictures of relaxed parents and teens smiling and list suggestions like, “Keep things light, ignore the slip ups, and praise good practices.”
Unfortunately for my girls, I’m the parent screaming STOP while grabbing the wheel and stomping my imaginary passenger-side brake on a simple straightaway.
As with the boys, we have invested in measures to help the twins become safe drivers. They’ve taken classes and completed professionally taught road hours.
The girls’ instructor is about eighty years old and drives on busy roads with newly permitted students with a sweetness that I truly envy. He gently admonishes me to increase the girls’ practice time.
“Perhaps it would be helpful to have your husband take on the driving hours,” he suggests.
To his disappointment, I inform him that my husband is even more skittish.
It is up to me to get the girls on the road. I’m just sixty practice hours and two driving tests away. I remind myself that my track record is good with milestones. Each of our kids is out of diapers, tie their shoes, read and write, and two have successfully left the nest.
I fully realize that getting a license is THE game changer for every teenager moving toward independence. I want the girls to embrace this new freedom. And yet I’m surprised to feel more tentative than I did with my sons. I think of the girls’ accusations.
It’s not just about the driving. As the headlines scream everyday, the world can feel like a more threatening place for women and girls. Although the dangers have always existed, the current political and cultural climate has dramatically brought this reality to the surface.
While teaching the twins to drive it has been difficult to relay a message of caution, both on the road and off, without hampering their sense of mastery and adventure. Added to the generic warnings about drinking and texting I think of desolate parking garages and flat tires at night. The stakes seem higher for the girls.
That’s not sexist, it’s the truth.