HANDS ON THE WHEEL
I confess I have my moments of backseat driving. I question the route the driver chooses and point out when my husband doesn’t signal soon enough. I also flap my hands in the air and make moaning noises if you come up too fast behind another vehicle (the results of a bad accident years ago).
My husband is an excellent driver, who has saved us from many a potential danger with his fast reflexes. His driving record is clean, and his flaws are minimal. But, when he’s the passenger it’s another story. It’s all about saving the vehicle. “If you slowed down half a mile before the hill, you wouldn’t be so hard on the brakes,” he suggests. Never mind I’m in a rush for the bathroom. “Climbing a hill at a slower speed,” he advises, “will be easier on the engine.” But not my stress levels as a big semi chases me. His worse crime, though, is clutching the door handle if I turn a corner fast — like I’m going to roll the car or something! (I roll my eyes, instead.) Intense scrutiny makes me so nervous my driving skills deteriorate in equal proportion to the distance I drive. Not liking the feeling of sweating armpits, tense jaw and rigid neck, I opt for sitting in the passenger seat. I’m better at being annoying. He’s better at driving while being annoyed. It works for us!
There is a big drawback to this solution. I’ve driven myself to many parts of western Canada, through cities to visit families, up mountains to kayak hidden lakes, into the back country to ski. Once I began relinquishing the wheel, I realized the experience I’d gained didn’t stick if I didn’t practice. I remember sitting at the stop sign, where my side road meets the highway and looking left, then right, then left. Pulling onto the highway frightened me because it had been so long since I’d driven, I didn’t trust myself to see something coming. Driving through a city became a stressful ordeal again. Handling a gravel road, or icy highway in a snowstorm a shaky experience. Relinquishing the wheel for so long had eroded my confidence.
I have a friend, whose husband insisted on driving everywhere, and had an argument for every time she suggested taking the car. Then he had a health problem that gave him blurred vision. Suddenly, he needed her to drive him into the city for doctor’s appointments, to the hospital for tests. Her fear level was so high she broke out in hives brought on by inflamed nerves. It was a good lesson for them. He recognized she needed time behind the wheel, and she realized she’d lost her skill by not insisting on taking the car out on her own. Avoiding conflict prevents many women from driving.
I can get in my car and go, whenever and wherever I decide. It is I who chooses the passenger seat when we travel together. I minimize my tension by giving up control. My back seat driving is an obvious – though mostly failed – attempt to stay in charge.
I value my independence. Driving is a huge part of that. I watched my mother reluctantly giving up her place behind the wheel as her vision worsened. On one of our ‘girl’s trips’ she failed to see an oncoming grey car on the grey highway, which almost resulted in a head on. She knew she could no longer take the risk of hurting someone and by relinquishing her license, faced yet another limitation of aging.
In the country my vehicle is my lifeline to food, medical aid, company, adventure, even for a short time, to potable water. Driving is freedom, the way I transport myself to the people and places calling my heart. I will fight as long and hard for that independence as my mother. Keeping my hands on the wheel is a conviction.