816 Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: Put your parenting vehicle in drive, but be prepared to detour

For me, as for a lot of people, the winding road of parenting happened long before children. It began when I WAS a child. Is there anyone who didn’t utter/mutter/shout, “I am NEVER going to do that to my own kid!”?

Didn’t think so.

By the time parenting stopped being theoretical and became factual, when I stopped planning for the trip and embarked on it — I had a list of things that I was looking forward to doing with my kids.

One of those was teaching them to drive. I’ve carried on before about how I approached it, but honestly, I had been looking forward to it. I planned to help my kids become skilled and learn the rules, then the finesse, of driving.

“Driving is like a dance,” I planned to inspirationally say. “The road and the vehicle move together gracefully, skillfully, smoothly.”

And of course they would completely understand my overly romanticized simile and impress me with their abilities within a couple months.

I know, you’re laughing at me. It’s OK.

The way life worked out, I taught two kids at the same time. Fine. They are very in close in age, learned a lot together over the years — not a big deal.

Only it was a big deal. A very big deal.

Not only did they fail to dazzle me with an understanding of the Vehicular Rhumba, none of us had our expected experience.

Turns out I was not the stellar teacher I planned to be. My moment of clarity? As I “guided” her one day, my daughter made it a whole three blocks from our driveway before she signaled, pulled over to the side of the road, put the car in park, got out ... and walked home.

Dream dashed.

Life rarely happens as you imagine it will. How can it? When you’re planning, you have only a goal, certain variables and few facts to consider. Logically, there is a great chance that your high expectations and dreams will be dashed.

But, thinking back to my pre-parenting dreams list, I overlooked a lot. I suspect most parents do. Those were the times we couldn’t plan for, had no expectations of, but the surprising experience gifted us a treasured memory:

The moment when we realized that reaching for our child’s hand was as instinctive to them as it was to us, the feel of that tiny hand holding-on tight.

The first time we discovered that they did something kind for someone without being asked or prompted.

When they stopped walking and demanded that you to stare at an anthill for 20 minutes because … ants are cool. Instead of hurrying them along, or being bored, you realized … ants are cool!

When you catch them reading your favorite coming-of-age book; when they quote your favorite coming-of-age book … and the trifecta of unexpected delights … when they make a joke referencing your favorite coming-of-age book.

When you learn that dreams aren’t required to make a great memory.

Our year of driver’s lessons resulted in one of my kids passing on the first try. The other? Test anxiety is a mighty powerful force.

Can I now show those same kids how parenting will be a lot like driving?

Have a destination, plan a route but expect delays, detours and getting lost.

Be courteous when needed and defensive if warranted.

Stay alert, anticipate what you can and roll with what you can’t.

Know when to recalculate your route; delight in unexpected views and pull over to take them in properly.

Know that the road you take really can make all the difference.

Most important: wherever you go, however you get there, enjoy the ride.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.