My 16-year-old son, Jack, is driving now. Of course, he won't take his road test until January 12th, so he can only drive with me or with my husband. Jack doesn't enjoy driving with either of us.
"Dad's too mean, and you're too scary," he said.
"Too scary? Did you mean too scared?" I asked. "I'm not scared."
"I didn't mean scared. You're too scary," he explained. "The entire time I'm driving, you remind me of how the car can be a deadly weapon. Last time you said, 'Watch out at the intersection. Even though you stopped on time, another car could run the light and T-bone you.' I don't need that kind of encouragement, Mom."
Jack prefers to drive with Otis, one of the local driving school instructors. Otis shows up in his dented car (not kidding), climbs out of the driver's seat, hands Jack the keys, and says, "You ready to burn it up, boy?"
Otis taught Jack how to parallel park and promised to take him over the road test course prior to his test date. Jack says Otis is neither mean nor scary. Otis says Jack is a great driver. Jack says Otis gives just enough instruction, more than my husband (who waits tight-lipped for Jack to goof up, all the while white-knuckling the door handle) and less than I give (a steady litany of all the horrible things that could happen if he is not 100 percent attentive 100 percent of the time). Otis just goes along for the ride.
I'm a teacher. I have been a teacher for 22 years. My husband is principal of an elementary school. Teaching is what we do. We should have been able to teach our own son how to drive a car. Instead, we turned to good-natured Otis, a different kind of teacher. Otis is a man whose patience has been road tested by hundreds of teenagers over the years...each one presenting a different sort of challenge...too timid, lead foot, overly confident, slow to react, not attentive enough, uninformed, or just plain frightened. Despite the various needs of his students, Otis approaches each student driver with the understanding that he or she will eventually learn to drive. He or she will eventually pass that test. For some, it may take several tries; others might be natural-born drivers. Regardless, Otis is a passenger on their journey, a smiling, encouraging, patient, optimistic passenger who reminds them to use their mirrors and their turn signals and instructs them on proper etiquette at a four-way stop.
Otis is a master teacher; and I'm thankful that my son, my husband, and I have had a chance to learn from him.