Scene: 9 a.m., Westfarms mall parking lot. Only cars in lot owned by early-morning mall walkers.
Mom: "Put your blinker on."
Teenager: (Blank stare)
Mom: "Put your blinker on!"
Teenager: "Where's the blinker? How am I supposed to know where ..."
Mom: "Seriously? Oh my God. Here, I'll do it. (Reaches across steering wheel.) Slow down! No, not like that! Forget it. Don't turn. Just pull over. We're done for the day."
Although our eldest son has demonstrated no interest in getting his driver's license, I recently decided that he should at least get his learner's permit this summer. I figured he could rack up some hours driving to and from the camp where he's working. But that would mean I'd have to let him drive on an actual road.
Despite being just a few years older than he is now when I got my license back in the 1980s, my experience was completely different from his. Namely, there are rules today, and people seem to follow them.
We had a booklet. Made from paper. I memorized it and took the "written" test just moments before taking the road test.
Today there is no booklet. There is a PDF on the CT DMV web site, which he skimmed for two whole days about as carefully as I read People Magazine while getting my hair done. He took the permit test totally unprepared and got every question correct. Without knowing how to actually make a car work.
The biggest difference between my learn-to-drive-a-four-speed-Chevy-Chevette days and his new driver experience is just that: experience.
I'm not sure if it was the era or the rural nature of my hometown, but I knew how to drive way before I turned 16. My best friend grew up on a potato farm, and I'm pretty sure the first vehicle I ever drove was a John Deere tractor. Not the smoothest ride, but the visibility was great.
Another friend's family had an unregistered VW Beetle out behind the corn fields. "Just don't drive it into the river," her dad would yell to us as we disappeared for hours at a time. It would be at least another year before I got my license.
Now we're all into laws and stuff. The restrictions put on new drivers make loads of sense to me — a nervous mom who was once an irresponsible teenaged driver. To make a kid obtain some driving hours before carting around his distracting friends is a great idea.
But there's a part of me that's hanging on to those days when letting your kid drive around an empty parking lot was acceptable. About a year ago, I needed to back the car out of the garage and onto the driveway for some reason. The teenager asked if he could do it and I immediately got excited. That's a fun mother-son bonding thing to do, I thought.
He got behind the wheel, figured out how that whole key/ignition thing works, and then said, "Can you remind me which pedal is stop and which one is go?"
Um, no. On the other side of the garage wall is our house, a place the front end of my Toyota should never see.
In the fall, some nice, patient, possibly medicated person will teach him to drive the way everyone learns today: while paying $595 for a 30-hour course.
It'll get the job done, but it's sure not the same as driving a tractor through a potato field.
Teresa M. Pelham is co-blogger for The Courant's "Mommy Minute" parenting blog. A freelance writer based in Farmington, Teresa is the author of "Roxy's Forever Home," a children's book benefiting dog rescue. Visit www.roxysforeverhome.com for more information.