My 14-year-old daughter studied the rules of the road religiously this summer, completed dozens of practice tests online, and passed the written exam at the DMV a few weeks ago.
But she’s a brand new driver and she’s still learning—so please be patient.
You see, just yesterday she was 7 pounds, 12 ounces of helpless squish, swaddled safely in my arms.
Then I blinked and she’s an almost-woman driving 3,500 pounds of metal, completely out of my reach.
You’ve seen someone like her out on the road recently, I bet. Her dad and I (but let’s be honest, mostly her dad because moms/daughters/driving don’t always mix) are logging important hours in the passenger seat, helping her gain experience and confidence.
I know she’s green. I know she’s making rookie mistakes. I know she’s probably making you frustrated if you happen to get behind her in a new situation she’s unsure of. I know.
But try to see her through my eyes.
Where you see a timid driver in front of you slowing down a little too early for that right turn up ahead . . . I see a fledgling not-quite-grown-up approaching a challenge with her signature caution.
Where you see a slowpoke going exactly the speed limit instead of 3-4 over . . . I see a conscientious rule-follower testing boundaries at 25 mph.
Where you see a hesitant left-turner waiting for a wider opening in traffic than you require . . . I see a disciplined firstborn learning how to weigh safety against risk in mildly terrifying real-time.
Most of all, where you see a driver going a little too slow or stopping a little too long or signaling a little too obsessively . . . I see my little girl.
She notices how you react to her out there on the road too. She sees you in the rearview riding her bumper, blowing around her in the passing lane, cutting her off with a glare or an unkind gesture.
We’ve told her not to worry about how others behave on the road—that’s their problem, not hers—but it’s another layer in the already big task of learning to be a confident and safe and defensive driver.
And you’ve probably forgotten what it’s like to be a brand new driver.
Most of us were not exactly pros the first few times we buckled down on our nerves and put the car in gear. But if you could sit in the passenger seat beside my child, you’d remember the big difference between studying road signs and passing lanes on paper and making a dozen simultaneous decisions that change by the second.
I bet you’d be reminded how a little grace can go a long way out there on the road too.
She’ll get better, I promise—but right now, try to be kinder than you feel.
Because that’s my baby behind the wheel.
And I’m asking you to be kind.