Friday, March 23, 2012

Teach Your Teen: Be Still

I've heard it said that the uncluttered mind is free to think clearly in a crisis. I pretty much agree with that since it's exactly how it happened with me.

I've got a lot going on in my life. First and foremost, I'm a wife and mother. Second, I'm active in my community and church. And third, I'm heavily involved in our family business. The overlappage (don't worry it really is a word) of roles has a tendency to fill my mind with details. Tons of  them. Large and small. Insignificant and truly important. Sometimes, the clutter in my mind piles up and starts talking to me. It becomes one of those friends that chatters non-stop. On occasion, I like the extra company and crunch my breakfast apple as I mull things over on my commute. But other times, like that grey morning when the rain splattered my windshield, it needed to stop.

As I got on the highway, I got the distinct impression that this morning, of all mornings, I needed to have two hands on the wheel and a large space around my little car. These aren't necessarily out of character driving habits for me. But on cold, wet mornings, it is common to find one of my hands warming up under my leg while the other one steers.

I knew the voice. It doesn't come often, but when it does, it comes from deep within. There have been occasions when I've followed the prompting. And other times when it spoke to deaf ears. When I reflect back on various gut instincts I've had and pop them into the Smart-O-Meter, it's fairly safe to say that I've always been smarter and happier for following as opposed to ignoring my sixth sense.

I turned off the radio only to be left with the plunking of rain drops on the roof and rhythm of wipers working double time. My infant son and carpool buddy slept soundlessly in the back seat. The traffic pattern looked typical for a bleak Seattle morning. A little wet doesn't slow anyone down...until it turns into standing water on the freeway. Even so, traffic flowed at a steady pace. As I began to imagine what the voice meant, my driving instructor mind switched on and I began to methodically identify each potential hazard in my path. I knew what was happening in all directions around my vehicle.

There was a gentle incline to my path and a pack of cars clustered together in the close distance. I was driving in the high-occupancy-vehicle lane, which consistently has better space than any of the others. Occasional cars moved in and out of my comfort zone to the right. An SUV behind me in my lane was was several seconds back. All was well...until a pickup truck ahead swerved over two lanes.

He didn't even look. Cars could have been right next to him and he never would have known until he hit them. How could he have done something so rash? His truck could have flipped! A huge pile up could have ensued.

My eyes darted over to see what he'd been avoiding. My hasty judgement of him faded quickly as I watched another car out of control. My foot hit the brake. I checked my rear view mirror and put firmer pressure on the brake, coming to a stop. The SUV to my rear followed my lead having watched the whole scene play out over the top of my car. A monster truck behind her hastily made a lane change. He had no intention on getting stuck behind any sort of slow down. Dropping so much speed so quickly didn't make sense....Until he saw what we'd seen. He cut his speed fast and came to a stop next to me.

 It was then that the most unusual thing happened. It was like the Divine connected the three of us. Monster Truck, SUV and I found ourselves together, looking at the car in front of us that had hit a patch of standing water and spun around. It was facing the wrong direction. And the world seemed to stop. This driver was in danger and paralyzed with the realization that she was stuck. She didn't move as she contemplated her options.

Perhaps, she could drive in reverse to the next exit. Or maybe she could wait until traffic thinned out and try to turn around... all the while hoping and praying she could do so quickly enough to not get hit. Better yet, she could wait for a State Trooper to come save her. He would block a couple of lanes of traffic and she'd be able to get going the right way. Resigned to the fate of the last option, she moved her car to the shoulder.

Unified, Monster Truck, SUV and I went into action. While Monster Truck blocked the lane next to me and SUV had my back, I slowly drove up next to the spun out driver and rolled down my window. "Are you okay?" I asked. With deer-in-headlights wide eyes, a young girl nodded yes. She couldn't have been more than 20 and was visibly shaken. She needed direction and I told her what to do. "Will your car start?" She tried the engine. It started. "Good. Those two are blocking traffic for you. I'm going to back up and you need to turn around.  You have two lanes to do it. You're going to be okay." "Thanks," she whispered as I put my car into reverse.

I returned to my place beside Monster Truck and gave him a nod. He had been instrumental in this grand scheme. Doe Eyes turned around and rejoined traffic. We had been a success.

With a wave to SUV our connection dissipated and we were all moving again. No one else knew what had transpired. But we did. We were pulled together at the right place and at the right time. Listening to the still small voice warms my soul. We did a good thing.

You have stories to tell. Share them with the new drivers in your life. Teach your teen to be still and listen. The voice they hear when they most need it may come from within.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ridiculous Road Sign

(Image source:

Have you ever seen a such a ridiculous road sign in your life? I haven't. I think this one takes the cake. According to this article on The Blaze, this Michigan sign has sparked a little controversy and I can see why. You would have to stop just to read the sign safely, then check your clock to see which speed limit applies.

I assume that the purpose of the reduced speed limit during those specific times is to protect children, but I'm guessing that the distraction this sign causes to drivers actually puts the children in more danger.

One driver even says that he's thinking of printing out the speeds and attaching them to his dashboard. Ha!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Kids Will Drive A Stick And YOURS Should, Too

My driving adventures began one month after I turned 15. I had a few lessons in an automatic Ford Escort from the driving school and my dad took me out to practice in our family's VW Rabbit. As I take a deep breath and close my eyes, memories flood in.
VW Rabbit Photo Credit
Rabbits are loud. The diesel engine constantly hums and continually vibrates.

Whiplash is a part of daily life. My newly acquired skill of shifting gears may have been jerky once or twice. Or more like .... every time I stopped and started.

The tension at times could be palpable. "Dad! What's wrong?" I'm at a stop sign and can't get the car to move. It's my turn to go. "Are you in first gear," he calmly asks? "Yes!" There are now six cars lined up back of me. He asks again, "are you sure?" My eyes fill with tears. I've killed the car a dozen times. I exclaim, "yes! Look..." I show him while shifting to first yet another time. I try to go. The engine dies. Again. I wanted him to just tell me the problem.

Little did I realize he already had. Just at my breaking point, he told me to depress the clutch and he moved the shifter from third to first. I thought I knew which gear I was in. As such, I wasn't considering that a nudge to the left would have put me in the proper gear. Over twenty years later, I have never repeated that same mistake.

I didn't really care about automatics or manuals until I met kids who couldn't drive one. I was grateful that my father took the time and patience required to teach me. The clutch and shifting are like second nature to me now. Perhaps, it's because I did it that makes me want my kids to learn to drive a stick. But maybe not. A manual transmission's advantages far outweigh the comfort and ease of an automatic.

Why My Kids Will Drive A Stick

It's hard.
Self esteem and self confidence come at at price. Learning to do something that's hard for you builds your character and skill set. Driving a stick takes effort. Effort to learn. Effort to master. Once you've got the stop and go down then do the same thing on a hill. With practice, the initial shifting terror transforms into smooth goodness. Knowing that you can accomplish hard things translates over into other areas of life. I need to work at for what I want.

Shifting requires active engagement when driving.
There's minimal chance for zoning out when driving a manual around town. The consious and subconsious mind is ever aware of traffic, speed and roadway conditions. Senses pull together to form a sweet spot...See the open road. Hear the engine race. Feel the drag. Touch the gear. Shift into a moment of awesome. You've solved a problem and are immediately rewarded with a smooth ride.

Automatics encourage distractions.
Contrast managing a tempermental clutch with a smooth riding automatic. It takes very little skill. But your brain needs to be doing something, so your senses get wrapped up in eating a sandwich and taking a sip of soda while adjusting the radio, programming your GPS and talking on the phone. Oops. I forgot to mention driving. You should be watching out for potential hazards in your path, too. But driving an automatic is so easy that your brain seeks out other means of engagement and forgets to focus on the task at hand.

Texting is practically impossible.
One of our clients called several months ago seeking driving lessons in a manual for her son. She wanted him to drive a stick so he couldn't text and drive. Brilliant. This reason alone is enough for me to teach my children to drive a stick. Bottom line, I want my kids safe. I know they'll push boundaries. They already do that. But in a car, the stakes are much higher.

In the United States, manuals are disappearing.
Make your voice heard through your dollars. Buy a manual. Not only do they encourage safer driving habits, but they are also cheaper and easier to fix than automatics. Also, knowing how to drive a manual gives you tons of options when you are traveling abroad and want to rent a car.

Your first lesson:
I love the guy's smile and swing of the scarf.

In depth instruction:
Have you ever listened to the Click and Clack on NPR's CarTalk show? I love these guys. Click here for their two cents.
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