Slam on the brakes, boys, your name ain't Mansell: Debby Holt loves her sons - until they get behind the wheel

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
On the fifth day after their birth I finally mastered the art of feeding my twin boys. I sat triumphantly on the bed with a child plugged on to each breast and looked down fondly at their downy little heads. I felt intoxicated with love for them; I made a passionate promise that I would protect them with my life if necessary, that I would soothe them when their hearts were broken and support them every step of the way towards a confident and happy manhood.

That was nearly 18 years ago. Thus far I have not been called upon to save them from any life-threatening experiences and, whenever their hearts are broken, they make it abundantly clear that the last person they wish to confide in is me. There is only one area where they have shown a positive wish for my support.

They are learning to drive. Forget potty-training, forget the first day at school, chicken pox, measles or any of the other classic traumas; there is nothing more stressful than teaching one's sons to drive. For a start, they are learning at the wrong age. If I were teaching them at 10, or even 14, I would be able to tell James, 'Change gear now,' and James would say, 'Right, thanks, Mum.' I could warn Ben gently, 'You took that corner rather fast,' and he would smile contritely, 'Yes, you're right; sorry, Mum.'

At 17 they seem to be programmed to disagree with my every utterance. They marvel at the paucity of my education: 'You gave up maths at 13? And science at 14? So what did you learn?' They complain about my memory, or rather lack of it: 'Can you get senile dementia at 43, Mum?' They certainly show no desire to defer to my authority over anything. All in all, my current relationship with my sons is not a promising one on which to graft a teacher-pupil scenario.

They drive my car (badly) and I sit there either hissing instructions at them through gritted teeth or yelling uncontrollably. What is really irritating is that every time I criticise or suggest improvements there is a full-scale debate as to whether I am right.

Unfortunately, I reversed into a stationary vehicle a few weeks ago - an incident that has not enhanced my authority. On the evening of the infamous manoeuvre, Ben returned from a driving lesson with his professional instructor, Steve, and told me that Steve had been interested to hear about my accident since he'd never heard of someone of my experience doing such a thing. Thanks, Steve.

So now, whenever I tell them off for bad driving, I receive the standard response, 'Well, at least I don't drive into the back of stationary cars.' I admit that I am not the world's greatest driving instructor. In between the many near-accidents I sit bolt upright with one hand gripping the handle above the window and the other hovering in a would-be nonchalant way two inches from the handbrake.

Safe at home, I comb the papers for relevant statistics which I later lob casually into conversations. Isn't it dreadful that 1,000 people die on the roads every year? Isn't it appalling to think that 70,000 are injured? The boys grunt with unfeigned indifference and continue to drive too fast.

The trouble is that whereas girls tend to step gingerly into their first car, erring on the side of caution, boys climb behind the wheel and see themselves as Nigel Mansell or, worse, James Dean (and look what happened to him). A 17- year-old male driver is seven times more likely to come to harm than any other age group.

In the past six months, four of my sons' male friends have had car accidents. Thankfully, none was badly hurt, but two wrote off their cars. So far, none of their girlfriends has come to grief.

I do not advocate raising the driving age, but I do think that new drivers should have a 'P' for 'On Probation' clearly emblazoned on their cars and should be in no doubt that draconian measures would be enforced in the event of careless driving.

In the meantime, I am torn between a longing for the boys' lessons with me to come to an end and terror at the thought of them at large on the roads. If anyone knows of an utterly reliable little car for sale that has brilliant brakes and is unable to go faster than 35 miles per hour, let me know.

(Graphic omitted)

Comments