Teachable Moments

My boys have been required (by me) to sit in the back seat of the car until age 12. Maybe it was the influence of too many baby books read when the children were tiny. It’s not really a rational rule for me to stick to once they reached the height and weight to deal with the airbag. In fact, it’s rather arbitrary, especially in light of the fact that I never rode in the back seat of my parent’s car growing up unless there were two or more adults. So I broke my own rule.

My eleven year old is taller than me. His legs are longer, his feet and hands are bigger. He’s generally more sturdy than I am. In light of this, it occurred to me that making him sit in the back seat was a bit silly. Riding in the front seat of my parent’s car was my privilege as the oldest child. It helped me bond with whichever parent was driving. I tended to stay engaged instead of sinking into whatever personal stuff was swirling around in my brain. And I also learned a lot about driving. Every now and then one of my parents would explain something I found useful later on.

Align your hood ornament with the line on the right side of the road. Brake going into a turn, accelerate coming out of one. When you slide on the ice, let up on the gas and steer into the slide. Wait to turn right until your back tire reaches the corner. Line the edge of the back door up with the rear bumper of the front car when you are preparing to back into a parallel parking space. You want to keep that drunk driver in front of you where you can see him. They would frequently quiz me. How far back do you need to stay from an ambulance? What do you do when you hear a siren? Who goes first at a four way stop?

We don’t have hood ornaments any longer, but the rest of that information proved to be incredibly useful. My parents kept up an intermittent dialog about how one should drive when we were in the car. By the time I took drivers ed, all I had left to learn was the mechanics. I didn’t realize as a kid that they were employing teachable moments. I thought they sharing forbidden secrets that only I was privileged to hear. It felt special.

Last night, without fanfare, I directed my oldest boy to sit in the front seat. At first he was dubious, then overjoyed when he realized I was serious. We had a great conversation that I didn’t have to struggle to hear. The boys did not bicker. Horseplay was impossible. He dug in my purse for my phone when it rang (bonus for me!). I should have done this earlier. Only five more years of teachable moments left before I let him behind the wheel.


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