Behind-the-wheel driving lessons make for awkward conversations. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Behind-the-wheel driving lessons make for awkward conversations. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Teaching son to drive knocks mom senseless — or sentenceless

When she’s in the passenger seat and trying to stay calm, she forgets how to speak. Is that normal?

Whenever I give my son a driving lesson, I forget how to talk. I keep my voice soft and soothing, but babble like a baby. “Walker person,” I say. “Slow now for the walker person.” My foot hits the imaginary brake, like that could save the pedestrian.

“More looks,” I say when we reach a stop sign to turn left. “Do your looking.”

For a person who makes her living with words, it’s pathetic. As a mom trying to stay calm while she teaches her teenager to drive, it’s probably normal … I think? I’ve never taught someone how to drive before. Even though my son is responsible, this is scary.

Then there are my bizarre hand movements. “OK, to back out, go like this,” I say, followed by wild circles to the left, like I’m a jazz dancer on caffeine.

“How’d I do?” my son asks after we roll backward. “Would I have hit any cars?”

I look back into the empty parking lot. “So many lines,” I say. “Maybe?”

I’m as calm as a cadaver. All of those hours I spent 15½ years ago studying labor and delivery hypnosis are finally paying off. My heart rate is so low, I’m catatonic.

“Go in the lane thingy,” I say. He turns left, and I offer a correction. “That’s too much right.”

We approach a delivery truck parked in the middle of the road. “Slow for the truck,” I say. He stops, and we lurch forward a little bit. “Good job slowing the go.” I take a deep breath and regulate my breathing. “I mean, good job slowing down in time.”

Every time he practices he gets better. He graduates from the middle school parking lot, to the high school parking lot, to surface streets in our neighborhood and beyond. The first time we meet a traffic signal, I sense the red light will change to green before we reach the intersection. “The color will probably go,” I say, as he slows down. Sure enough, the light changes.

Complex predictions and analysis occur inside my head based on 26 years of driving experience. When I attempt to download that wisdom to my son it comes out in a jumble, which is a problem because scary things loom ahead like switching lanes and merging onto the freeway.

“Blinker,” I say. “Blinker, blinker.”

“I know,” he says as he clicks it three seconds too late. We’re turning into our cul-de-sac now and facing the biggest challenge of all — our garage.

“I’ll do it.” I hold out my hand for the keys. We’re there, but we’re not quite there yet. Hopefully, by the time we arrive, I’ll remember how to speak.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at

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