The Bridge To Adulthood May Be The Ability To Parallel Park

When it came time to teach my 16-year-old daughter to drive, the division of parental duties was a clear and obvious choice: My husband would do it and all parties involved would do their utmost to keep me as uninformed as possible. Trust me, it’s better this way.

I’m a Nervous Nellie and if it was up to me, my kids would still be sitting in the back of the car strapped into booster risers with mini-air bag systems surrounding them. I still sometimes forget that they are teenagers now and keep the window safety locks on.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” learning-to-drive rule has worked out fine with the exception of when her paid driving teacher (California requires a minimum of six hours licensed instruction) mistakenly called my cell phone to confirm that he’d be taking her out on the freeway for the first time. Mama reached for her little blue pills over that one.

For me, ignorance is bliss when it comes to teaching a child how to drive. And as much in the dark as I’ve managed to remain during this experience, she — OK, her father — has reached a roadblock in the progress. It’s the devil that plagues all new drivers: parallel parking.

Sophie just can’t do it. Several garbage cans have been sacrificed in the name of teaching her to parallel park and when neighbors see her practicing on the street, they quickly come out of their houses to move their cars into their driveways. One neighbor quipped that if he could, he’d move his tree out of her way as well. I understood. I’ve jumped behind that tree more than once.

In California, wiping out the orange parking cones on your driving test is an automatic fail. It’s the “go back to the empty mall parking lot for another six months and try not to hit anything” slap to the head that no one wants to get — or come home and tell your friends about.

Without question, it’s a trauma — and an absurd one at that because here in Los Angeles, it’s what I think of as a gall bladder skill; you can live nicely without it. In LA, nobody ever parallel parks. We pull into spaces in overpriced parking garages or hand our keys over to valets. Street parking pretty much doesn’t exist in Los Angeles.

I’ve lived here for 25 years and have parallel parked, I think, one time. Honestly? I don’t know how to do it anymore, either. And like making left turns at busy intersections, all true Angelenos just avoid motoring situations that are outside their comfort zone. I’m not saying the ability to parallel park won’t one day come in handy, but I can get anywhere in LA without having to make a left turn (or parallel park) and there’s no reason my daughter shouldn’t be able to do the same.

Well, actually there is one reason: There is nothing else stopping her ascension into adulthood except parallel parking. Once she drives, she won’t need me to pick her up after track practice or meet her at the school bus. Our car time together is special time for me. We have our best talks when we are alone together in the car. When traffic is in a snarl, there will be no more beach detours as we “play hooky together” from the homework and blog posts that await us at home. Call it quality-time or call it captive audience, but there is just something unique and wonderful about being together in the car, sunroof open, and singing along with Bruce on the radio.

And for this, I would like to thank the parallel parking gods for standing in her way, just a little.


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