Teen Driving: How We Shot Ourselves in the Head in California

At some point – and I could go figure out when this happened but it pretty much doesn’t matter – we took Driver’s Education out of our schools. Stupidest move ever.

If you aren’t aware, here’s how our kids learn to drive today.

1. They take an online course to get a certificate. This is a joke because it can be gamed and passed really easily. So the only kids learning at this point are the ones who are earnest and naive.

2. They study for their learner’s permit, this is the written test at the DMV. Again. super easy. There are so many videos and online tests you are really in trouble if you can’t memorize enough to pass the test.

3. Immediately, upon obtaining the learner’s permit, they have to take one hour (of six hours total!) of driving instruction from a licensed driving instructor. After their first hour, they can start driving with you, their licensed adult over age 25.

4. They drive with you – or a reasonable facsimile. (There’s a whole blog here to be written about who gets to drive with the learner based on temperament, skill and tolerance for anxiety and bickering. Pisces were born for the job. For everyone else, this is why we drink.)

Step 4 is very important and here’s why.

You know when you scream asshole at that person who blew through the yield sign causing you to slam on your brakes? Or the sonofabitch who cut you off on the freeway after they tailgated you for the last three miles? Or dipshit who thinks 30 miles per hour is too fast and so they serve as an illegal pace car for everyone else. Or the person who is on their phone or eating or doing their make-up or parked badly or …. you get the point. THAT’s who’s teaching our next generation to drive. Seriously. Bad drivers are responsible for future drivers. Think about that.

5. They log five more hours with their professional driving teacher. We supposedly had the best person from the shabby mix in Santa Cruz. Her advice, “Katie should park closer to the curb.” She also told my kid I had painted my license plate so traffic cameras couldn’t record my information. Um yeah, no. They are just old. Why would she say something so stupid? She also said don’t go to the Watsonville DMV – more bad advice. They turnsed out to be the nicest people at the most positive DMV I’ve ever been to! I love those people (and I’ve been back with another kid and just as nice)!

6. They take their driving test. And an amazing amount of them are passing on first try. It’s an eight minute test; typically with one “gotcha” that we all know about because we talk to the people who’ve recently taken the test. And there you go. Instant driver.

Only here’s the thing. This is so stupid.

They have no common understanding. In the olden days, when we had driver’s ed, we all learned the same things. We all knew the rules, the consequences and there was agreement among all teens on how things worked. That’s just gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Now their skills depend now on how parents interpret the rules. Kids are 100% learning by example so if you use your cell in the car, guess that they do. If you swear at other drivers (oops, me), guess what they do. That tailgating that’s your bad habit? It’s theirs too. They can’t even support each other because they don’t have a common understanding.

They have no collective sense of consequences. They all have heard us tell them what can go wrong, but I’m convinced their sense of immortality causes them to dismiss it as soon as they hear it. But remember when we watched hours of car wrecks and stupidity – together – so at least it was recorded in our brains? They get none of that. We attended a workshop put on by the CHP – it was good – but I could see it just wash over the kids. Because they only saw it once; in one 90 minute class.

Adaptation to change is left to our interpretation. I’m convinced driving is harder today than its ever been and as adults, we’ve adapted accordingly (but not uniformly or with any training). More cars. More poorly trained drivers. Complex dashboards, Cell phones. I don’t think we’ve done a great job but at least we have driving experience on our side. These kids could actually use four months of class time to understand all this complexity, and instead, we’ve eliminated it.

And then there’s the gift of provisional driving. They aren’t supposed to drive with other kids for the first year of their license. This is a corollary misdemeanor from what I can figure out. Corollary because they aren’t stopped for having kids in the car. They have to be stopped for some other offense and then get cited for the provisional driver violation. I think some lawmaker thought this law would cut down on teen accidents. Maybe it has (you can review the study – it honestly looks like too many variables are co-mingled to really get to an answer).

The truth is – at night, I want my daughter to have someone else with her when she drives. I like the extra pair of eyes on the road and a buddy to keep her safe as she walks to the football game or store.I spent a lot of time letting her drive with friends in the car during permit time because I wanted her to learn how to ignore them and focus on driving. Fingers crossed she grokked it.

So what’s my recommendation?

We need to put drivers ed back in school. I can’t figure out why our insurance companies aren’t paying for this (if we want to play follow the money). They have the means and it would save them big bucks ultimately to have these kids all on the same page.

Then I say keep the provisional driver stuff but allow one other person in the car because we might actually get more compliance. Teens don’t do stuff alone. Make a law that instantly turns them into violators is nuts.

Finally – and I know this will shock everyone – when a teen goes through drivers ed, use that time to refresh parent’s driving skills (maybe they get $50 discount on insurance for attending a refresher course). We will still be sitting next to them during the permit months. Wouldn’t it be good if we were reminded of all the things we’ve forgotten since we started driving? Who goes first at a four-way stop? Are you allowed to pass a bicyclist on the right if you have to cross a double yellow on the left? Can you have liquor in the car if you aren’t drinking it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. It’s been a hot button for me. Please let me know what you think!

Just Got Off the Bus in Times Square

You can’t have her, she’s alllll mine….

A good friend of mine remembers his adolescence amazingly well.

As I described to him the changes going on with my 14 year old daughter, a freshman in high school, he said, “It’s like she just got off the bus in the middle of Times Square. She is so overwhelmed having to adapt to these new surroundings – learning the language, how to dress, what music to listen to, where to go, how to be, noticing what the older kids are doing – her brain is over flowing.”

His recollection and description truly helped me. Before he explained this to me, I really couldn’t grasp how she could sit down to eat and keep forgetting to get a fork. Seriously – she’s been eating since – well forever! The fork is now a hard thing to remember? Yes, he helped me understand. But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like Jekyll and Hyde living in two very opposite emotional states of mind.

I want to shoot her.

She has been brain dead at home. Worst grades ever. No ability to string two thoughts together. If I ask, “What’s your plan?” she looks at me like I am speaking French – no wait, something far less interesting – like I am speaking whale. Or like those teachers on Charlie Brown.

“Mom, I want to live in the moment,” she says clarifying as she heads back to her bathroom to make yet another cosmetic adjustment. Fifty-year-olds don’t spend this much time on their faces. My god.

“That’s fine honey when they are all your moments, but in this case, you need me to drive, get food and frankly put my life on hold while you figure things out,” I say while I am often picking up another pair of her shoes (not co-located) or moving her crap off the table an into a single location.

And thus the battle begins. No matter how hard I try to eliminate any challenges, just simple communication seems to be impossible. And she’s explained to me it’s perfectly normal: all her friends hate their parents. Gee, awesome. Let me run right out and get the special yogurt you want.

I am missing the crap out of her. 

My friends theorize since I am a single mom, it’s probably harder for me than most. But I don’t think that’s it. I’ve busy and fairly fulfilled – I’ve been working like crazy and I am blessed to have a fantastic, diverse group of friends.

No, I think it’s because she and I actually got along really well and liked each other’s company. I always counted my blessings I got a kid that liked to do what I liked to do (wasn’t the case with me and my mom – she was an orange and I was an apple…well, actually she was more of a banana). I miss the time I would spend with her getting into mischief – even if her friends were along for the ride.

Just keep swimming.

So here we are.I’m 90% sure I haven’t changed on iota since September 1st. Yet little miss NYC is caught in the swirl of emerging adulthood and is fifty shades of different: excited and overwhelmed in the middle of Times Square. Please tell me I’m not just a pigeon on the sidewalk trying to avoid all those feet.

This too shall pass. Right?

It’s True, I Love Stealing Other People’s Children

It was so easy.

All I had to do to lure them away was send them a text. And then they were mine!

Much to Katie’s chagrin – she really can’t complain, she’s off storming the South Pacific with People to People – I swiped her friends and took them to a food fest at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville.

My glorious partners in crime, Emelia and Eva, are Katie’s friends and they are wonderful, fun and appreciative. They accompanied me to the event to learn more about the food bank and the local service organizations and foods we have in Santa Cruz County.

Free Food at the Food Bank!

We got there to find a great spread – lunch! I wish I could remember which group made the food. It was tasty. Enchiladas, salad and if you look, that’s a tri-tip sandwich on Eva’s plate.

It was sunny and warm and it was fun to feast with the girls and dish about my daughter! Well not exclusively, but there was a little gossip about her flirting with some boys in New Zealand. I hadn’t heard that story. It was so good to get the “deets” (that’s slang for details if you aren’t hip – it’s probably actually old-school slang at this point).

After lunch Bly, pictured on the right, gave us a personal tour of the food bank. We started in the offices learning about their marketing efforts like The Waiters Race organized by Soif Wine Bar owner Patrice Boyle to celebrate the French holiday Bastille Day and raise money for the Watsonville-based charity Second Harvest Food Bank.

We rounded the corner and found the sign (right) that noted half the people served by the food bank are children. That one hit home for all three of us. We also saw this huge whiteboard that lists where food is being delivered and when. It’s a two week window of outreach that extends all over Santa Cruz County. Very impressive and real.

The warehouse was next and thanks to a great Capital Campaign, the bank has racks now to stack the food that’s donated from many places. It’s rather amazing to see stacks and stacks of donated food. One of the girls said it felt like a “Costco for good.” Couldn’t agree more. We passed by strawberries donated by Driscoll’s and Happy Boy Farms tomatoes and more.

We ended looking at the inside of a box of food that’s delivered to families based on the donations given in those food bins that show up at the holidays all over Santa Cruz County. In the photo on the left that says Food Drive, you see what a family might get. I saw two cans of anchovies and it took me a minute to force down my gag reflex. They are so gross to me.

Then I realized, if I was hungry, that would be food and I would be grateful. I am grateful that I am not that hungry and don’t have to rely on Sardines. Very, very grateful.

We walked outside to find Sam Farr talking with the gathering about his support of the Food Bank. When I snapped the photo, he was surrounded by Plantronics Interns who always seems to be on hand to help out at these events (wow).

Before we left, we visited the various booths set up around the event featuring local growers and plenty of great produce. I buried myself in raspberries – like gold at the store and I could have as many as I wanted! – and the girls tasted tomatoes, apples, strawberries and more.

They gave us bags and we were invited to take home produce. We all left with lots of fresh goodies from organic carrots and radishes to home grown plums, apples and berries.

The girls expressed interest in volunteering sometime soon; maybe to sort food. I was glad to have the chance to share such a good time with them. They were terrific company and made me miss my daughter just a little bit less.

Stealing kids is totally worthwhile – as long as their parents agree! I just hope Katie won’t kill me when she gets home!

Middle School is Almost Over – We Made It Through the Wilderness

First Day of Middle School
I’m so lucky. I have a fairly uncomplicated kid. 
 
Now that middle school is finally coming to an end, I realized what we really went through in the last three years. For anyone just starting out: hang in there – what comes out on the other end is totally worth it.

From Home School Back to Public School

When Katie started sixth grade, fresh out of home school, she didn’t really have any friends. She bravely sat through first lunch week after week, alone. After awhile it did get to her. She admitted it was hard. Eventually, she finally met a friend and while it wasn’t perfect, it was good. Her friend was smart and shared interests and finally there was someone for Katie to hang with at lunch.Fast-forward to the spring semester of eighth grade and Katie is now on fire. That one friend got her through the winter of this year and then finally, like a curtain raised, all the girls who I would say aren’t the “popular ones”; the girls that are more introverted finally found each other.
 
Katie has a “posse”!
The kids are good kids and they have all emerged from the middle school dessert as new people. They readily admit they feel different. More ready to take on the world. To hangout and try new things. It’s clear Katie’s natural leadership qualities has been the fuel to get these kids together, but they also had to be ready. And they are!

The big ice-breaker was a girl/boy bonfire at our house. At first they only wanted to plan it for two hours because everyone said they needed to get home. I quietly (ahem, I’m sure I was quiet about it), I quietly jumped in and suggested to Katie that really what was behind this rather crazy time constraint was social anxiety. She admitted I may have had a point.

The get together started at 6pm at our house. A few people were late, there was much texting and then the pizzas arrived. I went and hid in my bedroom and let the good times roll. With no effort they found their rhythm and had a great time. As it neared 11pm and I had to tell them it was time to go home and they were so sad! But I was relieved. These kids had no problems. They were awesome (they even left the house clean). 

There’s hope!

So what I am saying is if you are living the middle school years, there’s hope. Don’t freak. The boys are complete idiots in sixth grade (I was assured by a teacher friend, this is expected) and they are just now getting it together. It absolutely correlates to testosterone. The late bloomers are still struggling. The girls are either incredibly socially competent as they enter sixth grade or they go into a kind of torpor that they will come out of as the days get longer in eighth grade. At least that’s what I observed.
 
I’d love to hear your experiences. It’s sad enough to remember our own middle school years – I was not popular but played consigliere to the popular girls. So much drama. Now it’s our turn to watch. What are you seeing? 

 

A night of fun with the bonfire.
Shopping with the posse.