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Swaddled No More

I remember many years ago when my younger sister tried to teach me to drive stick shift. She had a new white Ford pickup truck and we were driving to Iowa together. A very late bloomer, I had recently gotten my driver's license at twenty-two and was practicing driving with anyone who'd have me. My sister thought learning stick shift on the freeway would be easier than in the city where I lived. We started at a gas station outside of Chicago and by the next off-ramp she had booted me back into the passenger seat. I never did learn to drive stick shift.


When my other sister Katherine and I drove across the country a few months later I was driving in the left lane somewhere in North Dakota when she looked over at me and said, "You know you're not supposed to stay in the left lane right? It's just for passing." I didn't know that and there's lots more that I didn't know. I learned along the way, pushing through the fear with every new driving experience.


This week I drove 800 miles from Seattle to Northern California with my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia. We planned a much-needed getaway to see my sister and her two sons during her spring break. Like so many, we've missed our family during the last year of COVID and figured that this drive, though long, was worth a few days of being with them.

Lucia got her driver's license about a month ago and is a good in-city driver. But she's had minimal experience on freeways. On our first day we drove to Ashland, Oregon. Normally the trip would take about seven hours but with Friday traffic it took us over nine hours.


Lucia drove the middle stretch of the trip and did great. She managed to pass big semis. She figured out how to yield to faster cars. She seemed relaxed and happy. After witnessing Lucia's highway driving for an hour or so I too relaxed and settled into the luxury of looking at the scenery and eating snacks.


Our second day would be another six hours. Lucia was eager to take the first leg and I was happy to let her do it. We left Ashland and very shortly after entered a several-hour stretch of mountain highway around Mt. Shasta. This is the kind of driving I am most afraid of. Growing up in the midwest I wasn't regularly exposed to mountains and elevation. Though I've lived on the west coast for thirty years, driving on windy mountain roads still renders me panicky, rigid, and fearful. I lean into the windshield and grip the steering wheel with each mountain curve, settling behind slow-moving semis instead of cruising with the rest of the drivers.


With Lucia at the helm, I quickly realized that my control tactics-- leaning in, white-knuckling, having a stare-down with the lines on the highway-- wouldn't serve me. I had no control over the car. I spent the first hour micro-managing Lucia. I told her when to speed up, when to slow down, when to pass. Lucia was patient at first but eventually became irritated.


"Mom," she said, "you are stressing me out."

"I'm sorry," I said, "this is the scariest kind of driving for me. It always has been. It really stresses me out."