Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Querido m’hijo, mi cielo,

Wow. It has been too long since I sat down here and wrote you a letter. Partly this is so because it’s summer and, with its leisurely pace, we’ve actually managed to sit down and have some good conversations in person. And partly this is so because it’s summer and, with its glorious weather, we’ve been busier and then, when home, more tired.

Today I felt the need to write, though. I was listening to another Beatles song (“All You Need is Love“), trying to get my mind off of the daily news, and then I moved on to one of my favorite Beatles tunes, “Baby You Can Drive My Car,” which of course brought to mind our practice sessions as you learn how to drive stick-shift. Every time we get in the car you plug in your phone and put on instrumentals that I don’t know; more synth than acoustic, the music drones away in the background as you practice getting into first gear, first on level ground, then on an incline.

So you’ve been driving my car, with me always beside you. I know that someday I won’t be there, so I keep on trying to give you “thing big” lessons as you practice. “The most important skill is defensive driving!” “Keep your eyes moving and be aware of other vehicles, and bicyclists, and pedestrians.” “The best drivers are like chess players, they think several moves ahead.” I don’t even know why I said that. I don’t know how to play chess. But I know that you’re an analytical thinker, and it helps you to be able to think through it like a logic puzzle.

It took you a full practice session before you could consistently get into first without stalling. You’d try, fail, then stop and wait. I’d see the wheels turning in your head, and then the questions would come. “How does the clutch work?” “So how long, exactly, should I hold my foot on the clutch?” “Which foot moves first, and how quickly?” There were no precise answers for any of these (well, there is for the first one, but I didn’t know it); you knew and I knew that this drive to analysis was important, but irrelevant. Letting your body feel its way toward the balance of clutch and gas…it was just going to take time and practice.

We’ve since moved onto higher order difficulties: how does one drive a 2500 lb car in this fragile world? How do we take ours and others’ lives into our driving hands? Essentially, you are asking me how you can learn to trust yourself with this incredibly powerful tool.

Adulthood. There are no easy answers I can give you. We wander clumsily into the world with all sorts of powerful tools, from the material ones like cars and money to the abstract ones like love and friendship; you don’t get through life without hurting people around you, whether you want to or not. I surely hope that the pain you leave in your wake is minimal. And it’s important for you to learn all sorts of skills, from driving to communication, to make that more possible. But when you do leave behind something or someone broken, don’t forget or paper over your mistake. Own it. Help pick up the pieces in some way or another.

In the end, m’hijo, know yourself so that you can trust yourself with this incredibly powerful tool. Know what your blind spots are so that you remember how to check them. Know what maneuvers or events you’re most fearful of so that you steel yourself and push through. Know when you get tired or annoyed so that you can choose to get out from behind the wheel and take a nap or choose to turn on music or air that will help you focus. Good drivers are predictable drivers, you know. Practice until you are predictable and until you are ready for others to surprise you. And then practice some more.

Your caution and care as you practice tell me that you will grow to be a good driver. And if you bring this caution  and care to all the other incredibly powerful tools you will wield in your life? Well, you will be a good citizen, neighbor, partner, parent.

M’hijo, you can drive my car…and baby I love you.

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