Feel it in your rear

“God help us all,” is often muttered in response to news that a teenager has begun driving. Other responses include, “Run for your lives!” “Hit the dirt!” and phrases implying apocalyptic events.

We all universally recognize that teenagers don’t know much about life, and that placing one in control of a one-ton combustion engine with the intent that he propel it over concrete at high speeds, is really stupid when you think about it. Nevertheless, our laws provide that 16-year-olds can drive, so we put our parental instinct aside and allow them to do it.

My son has his learner’s permit, and until I rode in the passenger’s seat while my sloppy, brace-faced teenage son lurched our minivan along the open road, I had no empathy for my parents. Now, I feel their pain.

It was June 4, 1984, my birthday, and I was twirling the barrel of my curling iron through my bangs for maximum height. I heard my mother’s voice calling from outside our brick ranch, “Sweet pea! Come out here a second!”

I tsked loudly, rolled my eyes, and ignored.

“Honeybunch? C’mon, it’ll only take a sec!” she continued, eventually appearing at my bedroom door. In classic teenage style I sassed and whined at my mother, annoyed by what I saw as her rude interference with a crucial task in my routine – curling my bangs.

Eventually, I succumbed to her pleas, but not without attitude. I appeared outside, slump-shouldered and eye-rolling, where the cause of her interruption was revealed: on our lawn sat a pale blue 1974 Volkswagen Beetle tied up in an enormous yellow bow.

I offered no apology for my embarrassing behavior. Instead I screamed and ran to claim the gift, which I assumed I wholeheartedly deserved.

That day, I had to deliver pizzas for our Varsity Letter Club fundraiser. My father thought this was the perfect opportunity to use my new Bug. There was one problem that my father cast aside as a minor detail – I didn’t how to drive a stick.

My hair properly coiffed, I jumped excitedly into the driver’s seat and awaited my father’s instructions.

A gruff, ex-college football player, he was not accustomed to being delicate. He operated on pure instinct, street smarts, and gut feelings. I, on the other hand, had no innate abilities, instead relying on conscious analysis to learn. My father didn’t use maps, instructions or cookbooks. I relied heavily on them. He was not articulate, using facial expression and volume to communicate. I spoke in great detail to explain my thoughts. So, when it came time for me to learn how to drive a stick, we were not exactly a good match.

After several stalls, I eventually got my new Bug onto the road. I made every first-timer mistake: revving the engine, sputtering and stalling, rolling back after stopping on an incline, riding the clutch, and constant lurching. Each time, my father bellowed, “Easy, easy! No, not now! There, there! Now! Shift! The clutch, the clutch!” I could not process the words he was blasting in my ear and continued to grind, lurch and stall.

Being the typical hormonal teenage girl, I soon began to cry as my father’s frustration mounted. “Feel it in your rear! That’s how you know when to shift!” No matter how hard I tried, I could not feel anything in my rear or anywhere else for that matter.

I was able to hide my tears at the first few pizza deliveries, but after more yelling and a near catastrophic stall downhill from a barreling coal truck on Route 286, I was soon a blubbering, red-eyed, snotty mess.

“[Sniff, snort] Hello Ma’am, I, I, I, [sniff, rubbing nose with sleeve] believe you ordered two [hiccup] pepperoni pizzas?” I managed to say after ringing doorbells. “Oh, Sweetie, sure! Do you want me to order more? Would you like to come inside and sit for a while?” my customers would offer upon seeing my pitiful condition.

I somehow managed to deliver all the pizzas without anyone calling child protective services, but was devastated at my complete failure to “feel it in my rear.” It was not until I drove alone on the road in front of our house that I was able to think for myself. Without anyone to tell me what to do, I quickly learned to drive a stick like a pro.

I never really felt anything in my rear as a teenage driver; however, I can now say that riding in the car when my son is driving could be described as a huge pain in the butt. Perhaps that is what my father was referring to. Regardless, my childhood experience taught me to hold my tongue when my teenage son is driving so he can think. Parental instinct may urge me to scream, “Holy Mother of God!” and grab for the emergency brake, but I’ll sit quietly and allow him to figure it out for himself.

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Comments: 11

  1. patricia60 May 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm Reply

    I can only say I never laughed when teaching my 3 daughters how to drive, but I think I wore out the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side of the car….Thank you for this insight
    I learned on a VWBug stick shift and I am so happy I know how to drive a stick – it has come in so very handy

  2. Simon May 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Lisa, this is so good. I still have some time to go before my oldest is that age but reading this kind of stuff makes me nervous already. The thought of you finding a way to get thepizzas delivered is truly hilarious. Well, for me the reader anyway.

  3. energywriter May 21, 2012 at 7:35 am Reply

    Oh, and you do feel it in your rear, legs and arms. When the engine revs at the shifting point your body knows.

  4. energywriter May 21, 2012 at 7:34 am Reply

    WOW! Flashbacks! My dad took me out to a harvested corn field and wouldn’t let me on the road until I could drive straight down the rows. I was going to tell more but I feel a blog coming on. . . .

  5. zmanowner May 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm Reply

    I agree you have captured the first time driving experience perfectly. The feel in the rear feeling. I have this image of Mike Ditka as the dad and Paris Hilton as the daughter. lol. This post should be a tutorial for all teenage drivers…..zman sends

    • Lisa Smith Molinari May 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Mike Ditka playing the part of my father — YES. Paris Hilton playing the part of me as a teenager — Not so much. I’d say I was more like Drew Barrymore in “Never Been Kissed.”

  6. lauriebest May 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm Reply

    Yeah, my father tried to teach me to drive a stick shift — only it was in a
    half ton truck from his business. I couldn’t reach the pedals without a huge cushion. Needless to say, my experience was much the same as yours. My husband later taught me to drive a stick on our little car (he wasn’t a much better teacher) but I became good enough to drive the steep hills in San Francisco…scared shitless, but still I drove!

  7. Mike Farley May 20, 2012 at 10:25 am Reply

    Beautiful, Lisa. You’ve creatively captured the experience of learning to drive for everyone with a license. And without a license, for that matter. Personally, you’ve taken me back to my first left turn, a 30-mph car-whipping that would have blended in nicely with the famous car chase scene in the movie The French Connection. My dad effectively reached over from the passenger side and grabbed control of the car, nearly forcing me through the driver’s door in the process. It was back to the parking lot for me.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari May 20, 2012 at 10:55 am Reply

      My son does the same thing – for him it must be from doing those X-Box driving games where you get extra points for taking the turns fast even if you blow out the stop signs or bounce off the guard rails. Not sure what your excuse is…

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