Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 10.12.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Driving lesson #1: Get a grip

We've pretty much all agreed that I won't teach the kids how to drive. There would be too much yelling, too great a risk of stroke. It would end in tears, probably mine.

Consequently, this past weekend, I stayed in the way-back seat when our eldest took the wheel of the van to drive the family to the orchard, her first outing on the highway.

I will not comment on her driving. That would be unfair. I will say, though, (and this is no reflection on her driving skills) that as she hit 90 km/h for the first time in her short driving career, every muscle in my body went tense, braced for imminent collision -- as if gripping the neighbouring headrest would have had any impact on, well, impact.

Aside from barking "Brake! Brake!" a couple of times and laughing nervously when we kind of got sort of a little tiny bit too close to the gravel shoulder, I pretty much kept my mouth shut. I let Deb do the instructing from the front seat, so calm, so confident. Well, yeah, sure; she had an airbag!

So what exactly is my role?

My role in driving instruction, I figure, is to offer sarcasm: making "trapped in terror" faces out the window as we pass the neighbours; rushing out of the van and kissing the ground when we come to a halt; declaring solemnly that from now on I'm going to appreciate every precious moment of life; that sort of thing.

Is this actually helpful? Not instructional, certainly, but I think mockery is an important part of learning humility behind the wheel.

A vehicle, after all, is a huge responsibility, fraught with grave risk, not least of which is dealing with obnoxious passengers.

Learning to drive is a rite of passage not just for children but for parents. It contradicts practically every prior child-rearing principle. For years, we shooed them away from stairs, made them wear bike helmets, told them not to date boys with tattoos. Then when they turn 16, we let them loose in a couple of tons of cruising steel. It's like never letting your child play with sharp objects and giving her a chainsaw for Christmas.

But we do it because it has to be done. We look suspiciously on people who can't drive, like people who don't drink coffee or who've never seen Star Wars.

And there really is no other way to learn to drive than to actually drive. Instruction manuals aren't going to let you get the feel of the vehicle, keep things pointed in the right direction, develop confidence that the other vehicles HEADING STRAIGHT FOR YOU aren't going to clip off your side-view mirror. You have to learn to brake. I said "Brake!" Brake now!

My father, ever the calm instructor, taught all four of his kids how to drive. Phase one took place at the cottage, which had broad grassy spaces with only the occasional child or pet. Come to think of it, though, the fields were edged by steep cliffs, so maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

Nonetheless, we survived. In my case, there was only one minor injury:

Dad was teaching me how to reverse. I had seen this done before and had an idea of the preferred technique. You swung your right arm over the back of the seat and looked over your shoulder as you backed up. Smooth. After all, it's not just important to drive well but you should look good doing it.

Dad, beside me in the passenger seat, said, "Okay. Put your foot on the brake, put it in reverse, then back up slowly."

I put my foot on the brake, shifted into reverse and swung my arm back. And punched my dad in the face.

And there you have one more reason why I'm staying in the way-back seat.