Very high levels of caution generally don’t make for a full or interesting life, so I have fought my inner scaredy-cat for as long as I can remember.
I haven’t grown into some jaywalking, craps playing, skydiver but, with great effort, I have braved up over the years.
Over the past ten years I’ve married, been sliced open three times, started a new career, and taken on a whole new level of worrying by becoming a parent (technically related to the getting sliced up in an ongoing way). But the scariest thing I’ve done as an adult so far is learn to drive.
In a fit of birthday self-improvement in my early thirties (aka quite a while ago), I decided to finally learn how to drive. I was scared to drive, or more accurately, scared to crash, but I was tired of being afraid, and utterly fed up at not being able to do something that most of the adult population takes for granted.
I bought a package of lessons from Young Drivers of Canada (yes, the age jokes were never-ending but I persisted) and went and got my G1 (in Ontario, there is graduated licensing: G1, G2 and finally ‘G’ – the full you-know-your-stuff-and-are-permanently-licensed one – you must take a test to pass each level to get fully licensed).
For my first lesson, my teacher took me to a quiet street, got out of the car and motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat. She told me to put my foot on the brake. I needed more instruction. Which one was the brake?
The next lesson, the instructor picked me up at my building near a very busy intersection. Again, she told me to take the driver’s seat.
“Don’t panic.” She instructed. “Just signal and pull out.”
Like it was that easy!
I turned on the car, foot on the brake (progress!) and flicked the signal-thingy. My mouth was full of dry terror and I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck.
“Okay,” said the instructor after twenty minutes of signalling. “Maybe we need to ease in a bit more…”
We switched seats and went back to the quiet street.
“I’m PANICKING!” I shouted, a few lessons later as I hurtled down a main street at approximately 9 kilometers an hour and an elderly woman started to lurch her way across the road, dragging her shopping cart behind her. I thought I might throw up.
After the big freak out/near killing of the old lady, I decided to take a break from my lessons.
I had many excellent reasons:
- Driving is bad for the environment.
- I couldn’t actually afford a vehicle so what was the point?
- I was staying fit by walking everywhere.
But the truth was, I was afraid and I excused myself from trying.
For a while.
Okay, for a few years.
Eventually, I decided to finish the lessons.
I restarted the lesson package I had abandoned midway through although I had to pay the difference in pricing due to inflation.
I was more motivated this time (I had a baby on the way and a car that I could drive once licensed) so I swallowed my nerves and quickly got to the point where I started to not completely hate driving.
As part of the program, I attended two full days of classroom lessons where I was the only non-teen.
Some of the questions posed by my fellow driving school students are permanently burned on my brain:
‘If you are going along a windy one-lane cliff road and a truck is coming right at you is it better to hit the truck or go off the cliff?’
‘Is a deer a stationary object? I mean, like, if it’s standing still?’
I was scared again. My young class-mates would be sharing the road.
But I kept going. I passed my G2 and started driving more.
I practiced a lot and even invented a style I called ‘Elegant Driving’ (this driving style features smooth gliding stops, excellent etiquette to other drivers etc). I tried to share some pointers on this style with my husband but he wasn’t receptive.
I had a couple of not so elegant, minor scrapes against the wall of our garage but otherwise continued to improve.
Time passed, as it does (long days, short years), and now I cannot imagine not knowing how to drive. And though I still aim for smooth fluid stops and irreproachable etiquette, ‘Elegant Driving’ has morphed into something a little less fancy to meet the demands of the road in the big city.
“Spank the horn Mummy!” shouts my four-year old from the backseat when she hears me mutter a comment at ‘BUDDY!’ who has just done something annoying.
I don’t panic or freak out anymore and I sort of like driving (except for on the highway, the highway is still terrifying).
There is still one more test I have to pass to get my ‘FULL G’. The ‘FULL G’ involves driving on the highway so I am once again a little afraid. Without it, my license will expire and I will have to start over.
So I am nervous and would love to put it off but I am out of time. Apparently, ten years is a long time to work through three license levels.
I know I can do this and I can’t let fear get in the way.
The test is in three weeks.