The stoplight turns green. Daisy taps my car’s accelerator. Helping my friend’s daughter learn how to drive is the last place I ever thought I’d be in my life.
“You know, you can go a little faster,” I say.
Daisy glances at the speedometer. “I’m going the speed limit.”
Daisy had asked for help ahead of her driver’s test, but there’s something in this practice session for me as well. I’m in my late 30s, and with no children of my own, this spin around the block might be as close to motherhood as I’m ever going to get. I want to know what it feels like to pass along a few words of wisdom, even if it’s something as simple as, “Don’t forget to check your rearview mirror.”
Oh, to be young again like Daisy, with dewy skin and long brown hair tied up in a high ponytail. She waits a good three seconds at stop signs and doesn’t “totally pause,” like Alicia Silverstone did in Clueless, one of my favorite movies from the ’90s. She rounds corners with the gracefulness of Nancy Kerrigan. Unlike me, she doesn’t inch forward under a stoplight and mutter obscenities, thinking this will somehow motivate the light to turn faster.
Daisy is going to pass her test, hands down. She doesn’t need me. What can I possibly tell her that she doesn’t already know?
When I was preparing for my driver’s test, my family lived in rural Ohio, where there were no sidewalks or buses. If I wanted to go anywhere, I used my bike or my mother. My ticket to freedom, to going to Dairy Queen for a Reese’s Pieces Blizzard any time I wanted, was a driver’s license.
My friends practiced driving in empty parking lots, but not me. My mother pulled her car out of the garage into the driveway, leaving it facing the street, and handed me the keys. She slid into the passenger seat, wearing her Kmart sunglasses and the latest shade of red lipstick peddled by the Avon lady. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked.
I was the kid who wore floaties even after I knew how to swim, the one who called my mother to bring me home from slumber parties. But this time, I had an incentive. I pressed my right foot down on the gas, sending gravel flying, and drove out onto the street, then hit the brake with my left foot. “Pull over!” my mother yelled. Having one foot on the brake and one on the gas was a terrible strategy, she explained.
Fortunately, this isn’t a strategy Daisy applies. She uses her blinkers and checks her blind spots. She even teaches me how to do a hill start, which thank God, I never had to do back in Ohio but is mandatory here in Vermont.
“Can we get pizza after this?” Daisy asks.
Of course! We can always get pizza! I often forget about the 21-year age difference between us. Daisy feels more like a friend than a daughter, not just because we both like pizza but because many of her problems also tormented me in high school and still do today: money, boys, and math.
I once read that a child can feel stuck in time when they lose a parent at a young age. My mother died at age 56, when I was 20, just as she was becoming a friend, like Daisy is to me. I yearn to complete the transition with my mother, to send her a text message and — ding! — receive a response. Growing up, it never occurred to me that I might lose my mother, a fear too unimaginable. And then it happened.
“You have your whole life ahead of you,” my father told me at her funeral. He meant well, but how could I ever live without her? I did, though, and I have — for 20 years. This year I will hit a new mile marker: I will have spent more of my life without my mother than with her.
With aging comes the benefit of hindsight, of looking in the rearview mirror to find clarity. I see now what my mother taught me that day at the edge of the driveway, something that would never appear on a driver’s test. You can’t wade into fear. You drive right into it, full speed ahead. And when you’re done, you celebrate with pizza.
When Daisy and I reach a stop sign, she looks both ways, then adjusts her ponytail (always important). I glance out my window.
“All clear,” I say. “Gun it.”
Betsy Vereckey is a writer living in Vermont. Send comments and 650-word submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.