Broom Broom…

August 17, 2010 at 1:04 am (Uncategorized)

The weekend was all about driving lessons for this little learner – two hours on Saturday, and another two on Sunday. Saturday I drove north to Palm Beach and back, but Sunday boasted the big ticket items as Llewie and I headed across town: I made my driving debuts across both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Anzac Bridge (easily my favourite bridge in Sydney, not that I had much opportunity to gaze in appreciation this time round), and did it all again on the way home.

As we reached the car Sunday before heading off to a friend’s lunch in Rozelle, a brief, violent storm hit Man Town. Llew looked doubtfully at the gathering mini-tornado and asked not once, but twice, “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

It was like a Truman Show obstacle course – a specially engineered test designed to dissuade me. A palm tree flew past. Any second I expected the neighbour’s roof to lift off and hurtle down the street after us. I set my jaw and got in the driver’s seat.

“It’s probably a good idea for me to have a lesson in the rain,” I said.

“Rain is one thing…” Llew muttered.

As dramatically as it began, the burst of destruction abruptly subsided not long after I drove out of Man Town – although not before a car spun completely out of control on the opposite side of the road, ending up lying like a boom gate across two lanes of traffic – and the sun came out in reassuring shafts of light for the remainder of the trip. I was so glad I’d persevered – it would have been all too easy to say, “Oh yes, it’s too hard, never mind” – and I won’t learn to drive doing that. There are plenty of excuses not to if one starts down that slippery slope (I’m too tired, there’s too much traffic, there’s a lightning storm, I don’t know the way, etc.), and I didn’t want to allow myself a single one of them.

I wanted to cross the bridge.

I wanted to cross the bridge because now I’ll never be crossing it for the first time ever again – instead, I have already driven across it twice. There, now. That wasn’t so bad, was it? So that particular fear has been confronted – and therefore diminished – although I don’t think I’ll ever lose the sense of caution about it. Then again, nor should I. Driving is a serious business, a big responsibility, and too many people get hurt or killed on the road for me to do anything but approach it with extreme care.

Sweaty palms like you would not believe totally gave the game away – I would make a comically lousy drug mule. My palms were dripping when I managed to peel them off the wheel at a set of lights to show Llew. I didn’t feel nearly as nervous or stressed as my saturated palms suggested – in fact, I felt quite calm. Focused on the task. Determined to drive. It’s hard to imagine a day when I’ll be competent and experienced enough to actually enjoy driving, but I hope and trust I’ll get there eventually, and I look forward to it, because right now it’s just exhausting. I’m concentrating so hard that it becomes a physical and mental effort I hadn’t quite reckoned on.

Still, I am doing it. I am driving, I will keep driving, and I will get this qualification before the baby arrives. I will be a driver.

Not driving had begun to feel like the last lingering vestige of my mother’s legacy of deliberate ineptitude, and her extraordinary determination to stunt the development of her kids. It was the one remaining eccentricity of my life that could be traced directly to her. There’s no question this is part of my motivation for learning now: I want to snap that final thread. I don’t want to be the kind of mother who can’t – sorry, won’t – do this basic thing. I have clear memories of my granddad’s failed attempts to teach my mother how to drive. He bought her at least one car, and I distinctly remember her melodramatic hands-in-the-air damsel wailing every time she was briefly behind the wheel. I can hear the sound of it as though it were yesterday. To a child, she made driving look terrifying. And she never learned. The disease of her influence naturally spread down to us: my big sister didn’t learn, I didn’t learn, my brother didn’t learn. Then came two more kids with our stepfather: neither of them had learned the last time we were in contact. I believe her example succeeded in spooking and delaying us all.

I believe this because she tried to spook and delay us in everything else, too, and I now hate the fact that she succeeded on this driving front with me, because in every other respect, I escaped her debilitating clutches long ago, and know them for what they were: her sad, sick need to feel better about herself by surrounding herself with children, only to systematically cripple them one by one.

One by one, down we went – or down I was going, until I got away from her. The others weren’t so fortunate as to make an early escape. All of us had huge potential and good hearts and special gifts, but she took great care not to foster a single talent, nor to encourage the smallest shred of ability that might have led to our becoming capable and productive members of society – functional, and therefore capable of being independent of her. The force of my desire for independence was stronger than her ability to extinguish it, and that’s the only thing, I think, that really saved me. I think the others – I can’t speak for them, of course, but I’ve often wondered about this difference – felt more beholden to her than to themselves, so took their cues and made their decisions based on what she wanted – a trapped audience for her self-made dramas – rather than what they may have wanted for themselves. A criminal waste, in my opinion – but then again, she was never interested in that.

And now I am learning to drive a car anyway – all the better for continuing the lifelong work of driving myself far, far away.



  1. davidrochester said,

    Amen, sister.

  2. charlotteotter said,

    So proud of you, Di, driving far away from that history.

    • doctordi said,

      Well, you know histories, Charlotte – one can never actually get away from the fact of one’s own, but it is possible to park it in its place – somewhere in the back of beyond.
      Thank you – your pride makes me feel quite chuffed!

  3. Norwichrocks said,

    Oh. My. God. that is spookily like my own experiences – both the learning to drive part (left it til I was 32 and hated every single second of the process since I was convinced it would never become the much-vaunted ‘muscle-memory’ my then BF promised) and the influence of the mother who can’t/won’t drive part (mine, at age 62, has recently decided that she’s not going to drive anymore because she’s too old. “Your father does all the driving.” Yes, but what about when he conks it on the golf course and you’re a widow, isolated and stuck indoors because you live in the middle of nowhere and won’t even drive to the local shops or library?).

    Good for you, I am SO proud of you for driving in that storm and for making it over Harbour Bridge twice (those lanes are ABSURDLY narrow!). About a week after I passed my test back in the UK I had to drive, by myself, in an unfamiliar car, about 80 miles along a four lane motorway, in the snow, at night, along a route I didn’t know. Needless to say I got lost. But I made it there and back eventually and after that I knew I could drive… at least as well as the next person (if not better, since I dislike it so am more cautious).

    • doctordi said,

      Positively preening now – thanks, Truce!

      And very interesting you should say that about your mum, because this exact scenario is now playing out with some wonderful people I know (well, not exact at all, since your mum CAN drive). She has never driven, he always has, but he’s now sick, can’t drive, and as a result they’re completely stranded. It’s actually changing – limiting – their twilight activities, and it’s a huge pity and of great concern to their kids, who of course are now caught trying to ferry their parents around – a nightmare scenario for all involved.

      God, talk about a baptism of fire – that sounds AWFUL. But did the muscle memory thing happen?? It is *so* hard to imagine ever reaching that switch off point people talk about, where they’re so used to driving they’re not even aware of it anymore. I can’t begin to imagine its ever becoming second nature like that.

  4. Fiona Wood said,

    Hooray and bravo – on all counts!

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Fiona – I must say, the Harbour Bridge did feel like a big win!

  5. litlove said,

    Driving is fab, and while it does take a bit of time and effort to learn, it is freedom, ultimately, which is always worth having in any form. Good for you to break consciously with the past. And I can promise you that every healthy, loving thing you do for your child that is not what your mother would have done will feel like an act of healing, too.

    • doctordi said,

      I think, LL, that’s one of the weirdest things about my never having learned until now – it runs completely counter to my personality. I love my freedom, always have, so it’s odd that my extreme independent streak hasn’t just sort of propelled me toward this before now. I think it’s because one is actually DEPendent on others to learn.

      This is certainly why I didn’t learn as a teenager: most kids are taught by their parents, but by the time I was 16 and eligible for a learner’s permit, I wasn’t living with either of mine (and one couldn’t have taught me anyway). Then I went to Canada, and only those Pearson students who already had a licence were able to join the driving pool. Then I went to university, and was completely broke – certainly too broke for lessons and/or a car – and rode a bicycle everywhere instead. Then I got my first real job as a graduate at The Australian (in ad sales, not journalism) and started saving to go overseas… at a certain point, it just got too hard, and I developed an aversion to the idea that didn’t help at all.

      But yes – while I have always felt individually free without driving, I won’t be cruising around by myself for much longer, and both Baby J and I would be unpleasantly constrained if I couldn’t drive. So yeah, part of my motivation is also that: recognising a serious threat to my freedom.

  6. Pete said,

    Yay for you. I love the sense of your gaining in confidence and taking more control as well as facing up to the past and driving right over it. The muscle-memory definitely happens. Scarily so, in fact. I am often quite fascinated (and a little horrified) that people can drive in rush hour traffic and groom themselves (both men and women it should be said) in the rear-view mirror at the same time.

    • doctordi said,

      Yeah, the things people can do while driving amaze and alarm me too, Pete!!! Right now even wearing sunglasses feels obstructive to me, so it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever be driving with one hand and applying mascara with the other! As for the other stuff, thanks – I think LL’s word ‘freedom’ is the most appropriate one. I have always pursued my freedom, or fought for it when I felt it was under threat, and this is actually no different. It’s easy for me to hop on and off public transport at will, or indeed walk everywhere or ride my bike, I’m perfectly free to do any of those things any time I like, but once I have a baby in tow, that all changes, and that’s what’s spurred this change. It’s definitely related to that freedom being otherwise compromised, and I’d have no one but myself to blame if I let it happen.

      For the first time, I will also be responsible for someone other than myself, and that changes everything too. I have a responsibility to my child to learn how to drive safely and well – his or her quality of life will be influenced and enhanced by it.

  7. Lilian Nattel said,

    Way to go, Di, for knocking that barrier down! I’m sorry your sibs weren’t able to do the same, but that’s typical of adult kids from abusive homes. Often it is only one that can make the break and get away, physically, mentally, emotionally. It takes a fierce willingness to call the truth plain, and to take the pain that such honesty entails, at least to start. But then the freedom brings such joy, doesn’t it?

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