Sunday, 2 March 2008

Driving Each Other Crazy

Recently, I did something that was reckless, selfless and brave: I drove my eldest to Edinburgh and back so that she could attend applicants' day at a university there.

I am not an experienced driver and part of me wants to keep it that way. I believe in taking public transport and keeping my carbon footprints as shallow as possible. I'm not someone who needs to be behind the wheel; I vastly prefer being a passenger and enjoying the scenery. But the university in question, located on the outskirts of Edinburgh, was not easy to reach by train or bus and in either case involved many inconvenient changes. My daughter has gone to other applicants' days by bus, but in this instance unless someone took her by car, she would obviously not make it in time. When she pleaded with me to drive her there, I gave in and said yes.

As it turned out, the weather was awful. It was rainy and windy to begin with, but on the way back, it got much worse, with gale-force winds and driving sleet. But the weather inside the car was truly horrendous.

My eldest daughter is sixteen, and bless her, she was born knowing more than I. It is possible that there are sixteen-year-olds out there who aren't bossy, willful know-it-alls who diss their mothers and treat them like imbecile handmaidens, but I wouldn't know about it. I love my girl and she loves me, but sharing the same car space for hours each way was a sore trial for both of us.

Whether she will admit it or not, my eldest has inherited my poor navigational ability. Neither of us could find our way out of a paper bag. Our relationship has always been a stormy one, so please imagine the two of us on the Edinburgh ring road in the pouring rain, not knowing where the hell we were, unable to comprehend the maps that my husband had thoughtfully provided. Just to give you an idea, here is an example of our conversation as we tried to find the road to Musselburgh.

Daughter: (Gesturing vaguely) Umm...turn here.

Me: (Shouting) Left or right?

Daughter: Don't shout at me!

Me: (Raising voice) LEFT OR RIGHT?

Daughter: (Hesitating) Left!

Me: (Not turning, as massive articulated lorry veers into our lane and sprays us with muddy run-off) £%+&$-ing truck!

Daughter: I said turn LEFT!

Me: (Maneuvering car around roundabout again; waving desperately to apologize to driver behind me; speaking with clenched jaw) If I'd turned left there, we'd be toast. In order to turn left, I have to be in the left lane, and that truck made it impossible.

Daughter: (Huffily) Well, I didn't know that!

Me: You have to tell me well before the turn or I cannot turn safely. Got that?

Daughter: All you had to do was tell me!

Me: Actually, I was counting on you to be able to figure that out.

Daughter: Don't talk down to me!

Me: (Turning left) Okay, what now?

Daughter: (Stricken silence as she studies map) Umm...actually I think you were supposed to turn right back there.

It could have been worse: I could have made a stupidly quick lane change into that lorry's path and you would not be reading this blog posting. And in my own defense, I didn't curse or yell (or at least not on that particular occasion). In my daughter's defense, she's only sixteen, and she doesn't have a driver's license. But it wasn't a fun moment, and there were many more like it. Dozens, in fact.

The fact that we got to the university safely and almost on time still amazes me. We got through applicants' day successfully, and finally it was time to go home.

We started quarreling. I won't bore you with the quarrel itself; suffice it to say that she, being herself, started it and refused to accept culpability, and I, being myself, wouldn't let it go. An hour later, we were still sitting in the parked car, thrashing it out. In the middle of our angry dispute, a woman with a toddler got into the car in front of us, strapped her little girl into her childseat, then drove off -- but not before I heard a snatch of the child's sweet, innocent prattle and saw the happy smile on the young mother's face. This brought tears to my eyes. For one awful, fleeting moment, I felt like gesturing to the young mother; pointing out my obnoxious, sulking adolescent and yelling out the window "Mine used to be just like yours!"

But just as the weather can go from stormy to sunny, our quarrel finally ran its course and we reached a shaky, exhausted, temporary detente. We took the long way home, driving over rushing rivers, along winding country roads that cut through forests and fields. We oohed and ahed when we saw birds of prey, were delighted to find an abandoned lime kiln, and my girl clapped and cheered when I managed to reverse the car out of a muddy ditch I'd gotten stuck in. We stopped for a meal at a restaurant and enjoyed baffling our handsome waiter by speaking entirely in Japanese (we don't normally do this, but we felt it was important in this case: if he'd understood us, he might have blushed or gotten stuck up to hear all our compliments). And best of all, we enjoyed each other's company and made it home safely.

Next week I'm driving her up north for another applicants' day. Wish us luck.


Carole said...

I swear this is better than any of the stories I read in Reader's Digest. You have got to get your work out there.

I don't think boys and moms fight. So I don't get to feel how you do but I love your stories. And good luck and have bunches of fun.

debra said...

I also have 2 teen age daughters (although #1 daughter will morph into a 20 year old in July). Friday I drove #2 daughter, who thinks that because she has her learner's permit, she is a skilled and experienced driver) to the doctor in the morning and to the city (50 minutes north) in snow and sleet that was coming down so fast that the roads weren't clear.
#2 daughter can drive down the road, turn around to go back the way she came; and she'd say, "Have we ever been here before?". Enough said.
I'm glad you made it to and from safely. Happy trails.

Rob Hopcott said...

Bringing up kids is hard but they do leave ...

And then, in some ways it'll be harder for a while and then they'll become your best friends for ever ...

And so like you - but they will deny it :-)

Mine are all at uni now or left with their own career and lives.

(Do I look smug?)

Ello said...

OMY MAry! I read this and I think Holy Shit, that is me in a few years! I'm looking ahead at 3 hormonal girls going through puberty in a rapic succession. You will have to direct me to these posts again when it is my turn to suffer. I was a mouthy obnoxious teen with a wicked sarcastic tongue. I am not looking forward to retribution.

But am so glad you managed to have a good return drive.

Phil said...

Every time I read about raising girls - at least your version, Mary - I'm eternally grateful I have boys. They don't have the attention span to maintain an argument.

The worst weather I've ever driven in was on a return journey from Edinburg to Alloa. I swear the rain just fell in lumps rather than drops.

Super read.

Good luck to your daughter for next week - and good luck to you too.


Brian said...

And good luck from me as well

Smugness Now Rules-- Okay !

We never had trouble with my teenage son and my daughters-- nor with the grandchildren as far as driving etc went .

THEY now drive ME


Sarah said...

Good luck.

Here in Iceland, the inner lane of a roundabout has the right away to exit--some of the time.
I understand it now--but it is extremely confusing at first!

Teens are fun! Almost always at least.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- It is so sweet of you to say that! Me, better than the Reader's Digest? Maybe that's why they rejected me (or so I will tell myself, anyway). After reading your kind comment, I may just try them again.

As for boys and their mothers not fighting, though, I'll have to tell my cousin and her sons that -- they need to be told. I think you lucked out. Maybe an exchange could be worked out...?

Debra -- You have my sympathies, and I am cheered to think that I am not the only one with a daughter like mine. When I was learning to drive, my daughters enjoyed standing over my shoulder and putting their two cents' worth in as I did my hazard recognition practice on the computer. Later, I overheard my older daughter bragging to her sister that she knew she could drive, she'd watched me do it.

Rob -- Thank you for commenting on my blog.

If you've managed to launch your kids successfully, then you have every right to feel smug. People keep telling me that after my kids leave home, they'll be my best buddies. Believe me, I CANNOT WAIT for this.

Ello -- I was glad for the good trip home myself. We'd been going at it tooth and nail and I felt like tearing my hair. Ever since my eldest entered adolescence, I have found that even trying my hardest to be understanding and patient does not guarantee smooth sailing. You shouldn't worry too much, though: all kids are different and yours may be easier than mine. Remember: she was as good as gold for her first twelve years.

Phil -- On a couple of occasions, our eldest has brought home the odd boy and they have all been lovely. My husband and I both find that we can talk to the boys; they laugh at our jokes, want to join in sing-a-longs with us, and generally think we're cool. We wish we'd had a couple of them ourselves now, but it's too late.

Brian -- Oh, I am so envious!

I suspect that I would enjoy being driven about by my eldest. And I think she'll enjoy driving me around too. I keep trying to picture her pushing me in my lawn chair some day, caring for me in my dotage. I think she'll be pretty good at it; she's brilliant at bossing people around.

Sarah -- You are right: teens ARE fun. Especially other people's. Our kids' friends return the favor: they think we're great.

Remind me NEVER to drive in Iceland! After working my tail off to master roundabouts here in the U.K., I am absolutely not up to tackling them in any other country. Fortunately, my husband loves driving in foreign countries and enjoys the challenge.

Carolie said...

Mary, your writing is so wonderful. As much as I wish you publishing success, there's a selfish little part of me that wants to keep your writing a secret...special tidbits that I can enjoy while feeling superior to my unenlightened friends. So terrible of me!

I'm so sorry you and Eldest are having such a tough time. It does get better, I promise. I was a rotten, cruel teenager, but only to my mother, and o the younger brother closest to me in age. I'm happy to report that now, I'm probably closer to Mom and Brother than I am to anyone else on the planet, except perhaps, for Fearless Husband.

Best wishes to you both...remember the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, and don't suffer a similar fate!

Susan Sandmore said...

Your blog is so throughly entertaining. It makes me smile and get all teary and it also makes me wish I lived in Scotland and spoke Japanese. ::happy sigh::

Kim Ayres said...

bless her, she was born knowing more than I

I love your writing, Mary :)

Kara said...

ahhh, i know those days. my poor mother drove me everywhere constantly (i was a social teenager) and there were lots of times i would "forget" to bring addresses. i'm surprised i'm alive today. thank heaven that old nurturing instinct prevents murder so nicely.

Mary Witzl said...

Carolie -- This is such music to my ears that I am ashamed of myself. No wonder I blog when people pay me such kind compliments for whining about what I do, which is hardly extraordinary!

I remember that poem -- something about a dog and a cat eating each other up. I always puzzled over that when I was a kid -- how they could actually do this.

By the way, I am happy to report that since our trip to Edinburgh my eldest and I have gotten along pretty well and she has even cleaned her room with very little nagging. Things may be looking up!

Susan -- I've seen that picture of your town, and I would be thrilled to swap, especially in November. It's miserable here then, and bitterly cold, and each day is about three hours long, while the nights just go on forever. I'd even throw in free Japanese lessons first! Seriously, though, thank you for your kind words.

Kim -- Aw gee, Kim, thank you! You've met the young minx, though, haven't you? Am I wrong?

Kara -- My mother had her work cut out with me, too, but I still think I must have been a better deal than my eldest. At least I gave up and took out the trash after a modicum of whining, and my mother could keep me in line just by giving me a hard look and telling me she didn't like what I was doing. I could do that until I was blue in the face and it wouldn't make my kid change her mind.

The Anti-Wife said...

You are one brave woman. I hope your daughter appreciates you. When I was 16 my mother was one of the dumbest people who ever lived. The older I got, the smarter she got.

Katie Alender said...

Hilarious, Mary!

-eve- said...

Wow, it sounds like a trying trip! Still counts as 'together time', though - and I do think it's 'cos of your personalities *to be quarelling for an hour...! LOL! hehehehe... much easier to just agree to whatever they say (even if we're not in the wrong) just to get it over with - but probably better the way you both did it, thrashing it out so it doesn't grow into something bigger ;-))
It was good of you to offer to drive her; it shows support and participation (especially so if you're not confident in driving). I'm much older than your daughter, but my mom still drives me everywhere :-) (have sometimes wanted to drive myself, actually; but she says it's safer if she drives.... lol)

Christy said...

You know when that sweet mother got her child home, the child probably had a huge tantrum because mommy gave her the red cup instead of the yellow cup and then the sweet mommy probably said some not very sweet things. Everything looks good from the outside, you know?

Mary said...

Anti-wife -- My mother also got smarter as she went along, and more patient too. This is an interesting phenomenon; I remember my mother saying that her mother, by the time she died, had become a model of patience and wisdom to her as well.

Katie -- Oddly enough it strikes me as funny, too. Now, that is.

Eve -- I don't relish the day my daughter gets her driving license. She's so headstrong and determined that I fear for her AND the car. When she finally learns, though, it will be nice to have someone ferry me around in my old age.

Is an hour of quarrelling a long time? Actually I think I might have understated this: it strikes me that we were at it for closer to an hour and a half, but I narrowed it down for the sake of style.

Christy -- You are almost certainly right. But sitting in that car with my venomous offspring, the sweet mommy looked like the type who would start baking cupcakes as soon as she got home and smile as her little girl expressed herself by scrawling something creative and colorful on the wall.

Cathy said...

Hi Mary! This is my first visit to your blog and I laughed and laughed when I read this post. How I remember driving my own daughter to visit various colleges thinking it was going to be a great fun time! Well, it was much like your trip! My daughter's thirty now. Trust me, yours will be a great friend in time! There's something about being able to be cranky together that makes for a deep, deep bond!! Happy travels! And look forward to reading more!

Kanani said...

Oh, lord! I could feel the rain and the mud!

Most likely you'll need to invest in a TomTom. Just program it and it'll tell you where to go. Believe me, it's so much better than asking a teenager to help you navigate! It rarely works without a fight.

I hope her visit to the university was okay. I hope you were able to get away from her for a quick break!

Mary Witzl said...

Cathy -- Thank you for commenting on my blog, and more importantly, for letting me know that I am not alone!

I think a lot of us mothers subliminally buy into the whole myth of motherhood as a wholesome, loving bonding with one's offspring. While there is plenty of that, of course, there is tons of the other, and when it isn't all sweetness and light, we wonder what went wrong. Or that may just be me: I am a notorious sucker.

Kanani -- The only time I did get away from her was when she steamed out of the car in Musselburgh ("If you keep having a go at me I'm taking the bus home!") and I didn't know where she was for 15 awful minutes. As it happened, we both went back to see where the other was. Obnoxious though she may be, I didn't want to go home without her. She'd have loved to go home without me, but having inherited my tightwaddedness, probably begrudged the bus fare.

I need a Tom-Tom! If I drove more, I'd buy it straight away. It would pay for itself in a week -- no more wasting of precious gasoliine!

EmmaK said...

Neither of us could find our way out of a paper bag
I am exactly the same. I have to rely on my four year old in the back, who is a back street driver with surprisingly good sat nav skills.

-eve- said...

Hmmm.. I guess I'd say it is if it's an hour of pure, unadulterated quarelling ;-) (since you weren't driving at the time, which meant you were wasting precious time needed in getting there ;-))

Mary Witzl said...

Emma -- My youngest has always been a backseat driver. She has good sense of direction, inherited from her father who is my complete opposite direction-wise. It's tough to maintain one's parental dignity around kids like that, though. It's especially hard when they threaten not to show you how to get home if you don't buy them some nutritionless bit of fluff.

Eve -- Yes, it was a huge waste of time, but we had our major spat just after we left the university, not on our way there. Still, I had planned for a fun-filled afternoon of pleasantries -- maybe an ice cream, some window shopping, a walk in the park -- that sort of thing. Not a tearful session in a parked car with a sullen, glowering teenager.