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What was I thinking?

I was thinking that the boy seemed confident, ready to try, ready to knock my socks off with his knack for….


Nate is 15 years old and started driving school a week ago.  He has two months of classroom, then six weeks of behind the wheel instruction.  I take him to his classes on Saturday and Sunday.

“You want to try driving the VW on the way home today?  We can go over to the Pella drome (a wide loop with no traffic — where I taught my daughter to drive).”  Nate looked at me sideways.  I am not sure he expected me to offer to let him drive.

“Sure, dad.  Driving is easy.”  I am not sure how he knew that.

“Scared of the stick shift?”  My little VW has a six speed manual transmission.  I had some doubts about the VW being the first vehicle Nate attempts to drive.  The clutch can be intimidating and confusing to a first time driver.

“Not at all.  I can handle this.”

Nate was a bit too confident, although he always has had excellent hand to eye coordination, essential for driving stick.  Once he got the car moving, it shouldn’t be a problem.  The rest of the way to class, Nate asked me questions about gear selection and how to use the clutch.  He wasn’t really getting it, but I felt like he would get it once he tried driving.

As we got close to the Pella drome on the way home, I heard in my dome…

Nah, I will quit trying to rhyme.

Nate asked me if we really were going to stop for a driving lesson.  I assured him that we were.  We took a right turn while I explained that I wanted to take a drive around the course first just to make sure it wasn’t icy.  Can’t drive on ice your first time, I assured him.

It was icy.  The only other choice was the Dupage Technology park close by, a sparsely travelled area also with wide roads.  It’s a little more challenging, with two roundabouts in the middle.  I drove us in, found a nice long boulevard to start off on, parked, shut off the engine, removed the key, got out and switched places with Nate.  Before I let Nate take the driver’s seat, I pointed out the different pedals with an explanation of the purpose of each — clutch (for shifting gears), brake, and accelerator.  Nate took his place in the driver’s seat as I took my place in the passenger seat, buckled.

Let it be known that I was calm, cool, and not the least bit nervous.

“Looks like you need to adjust the seat.  You know how to do that?”

I told him where to find the seat adjustment handle and Nate pushed the seat BACK a few inches.  Dang.  When did the kid pass me up?  We went through how to find each gear, including reverse.  I explained that you have to depress the clutch to change gears.

“Do I keep the clutch pedal in?”

“No.  The gear won’t engage until you let the clutch out.”


The kid was actually asking good questions.  He pointed to the top of the gear shift knob.

“What is the R for?”

“Reverse.”  I told him to push the clutch in, then showed him how to push the gear shift handle down and over.  Nate tried it without a problem.  “OK.  Tell me what each pedal is for again.”

“Clutch.  Brake.  Accelerator.”

“OK.  Now I think we are ready.”  I hoped we were.  “Push the clutch in, hold it, and turn the key to start the car.”

That took a try or two before he got it right.  Car started, I explained the method of putting the car in first gear, then slowly letting the clutch pedal out while giving it some gas.  I was pleased to see the recognition in Nate’s eyes.  He followed my instructions by taking the car out of park, shifted daintily into first gear, then successfully negotiated the balance of clutch to gas pedal.  We were rolling.. straight.

Wow.  Not bad.

Nate had paid attention to me, shifted to second on cue.   We had gone several hundred yards without distress, now rolling along at around 25 mph.. downhill and straight towards one of the roundabouts.

I never panicked, not once, when I was teaching my daughter how to drive.  My boy changed that.  He panicked first, couldn’t figure out how to turn the wheel to drive around the roundabout.


“I AM!!!”


By the time he found the brake pedal, he had driven over the curb, stopping on the grass in the middle of the roundabout.  Had he kept going, he may have driven over two more curbs, down an embankment and into a pond.  Mercifully, he popped the clutch when the car jumped the first curb or else we may have kept going.  A quick inspection revealed no damage.

“I hate to do this to you, Nate, but I should probably get the car back on the road.”

I told my son that maybe we should wait until our van was available to drive. It has automatic transmission.  When he learns to drive the van, a vehicle with less to think about while driving, we could tackle driving my car.

You know, I taught the first one to drive.  Maybe it is his mother’s turn……