Learning to Drive

In two weeks Shelby turns 16. She’s a good driver, calm, coordinated, competent. Of course, it will help us when she can help facilitate the extracurricular chaos, she’s eager to pass this big liberating milestone . I know every parent goes through this..it’s just my first time, learning to LET her drive. Alone. In the dark. Up the Gunflint Trail. In the winter. I just can’t imagine.

On the way to the bus stop this morning, in the little dip before the access road–the car thermometer hit -30 degrees. As smart as Shelby is, she still comes hopping up the steps to grab her oatmeal and zip out the door –with wet hair and a short sleeved shirt. (In all fairness, she also slips into pack boots, grabs her parka, and swears she has a hat and gloves at the bottom of her backpack.) I’m a mom, it is my job to remind her that she could die.

Earlier, when I started the car, I had a little sub sub-zero warning, first from the squeaky quality of the snow (it feels different when it’s below -20 degrees). The car doors felt like they might break, the electronic dash messages were funky, the sky was so clean and clear and still; it was wicked cold.

Last weekend, Daniel had a hockey tournament in Inver Grove Heights…isn’t that lucky? Right in the epicenter of a Minnesota blizzard, it snowed 3 inches an hour for awhile on Saturday afternoon, and that was too much for the plows. As we passed through my old Mpls neighborhood –I remembered the biggest challenges for me when I was learning to drive–merging from 35W to the Crosstown–to get to Southdale. Even as we drove slowly through the piles of snow, there were people, cars, Perkins restaurants nearby.

That was quite a contrast to last night’s drive up the Gunflint Trail. It’s such a dark snowpacked tunnel through the woods. I drove the first 30 miles, with the funny but distracting car pool boys singing about “Spuds and Tubers” in the back seat, raucous like they were in a pub. I had a feeling it was a moose night–and yes, it was. I can’t help but yelp sometimes, they’re such big monsters when they suddenly appear out of the darkness to the middle of our path.
After we dropped the boys off, Shelby took over. Along the way, we talked about possible scenarios–what if you were alone and slid off the road right here, right now? Do you leave the car? How many miles to the nearest house? How often to the cars come by? No cell phone service. What kind of clothing back-up do you have? I don’t want to scare her, but…… I actually want to scare her.

And then she came on another moose–a young male, with a smallish rack. He kept looking at us with such wide frightened eyes–actually, we could only see one monster eye at a time. Shelby slowed down, and took note of where she was–the straight stretch up by the Octagon House by Loon Lake—a safer-than-usual place to stop, so she did. We watched the guy go in the ditch, then trot up on the road, then the ditch, then the road, then he started slipping–it was comical, actually, but we did not want to rush him because it is a LOOOOOOOONG way for him to fall on the pavement. She turned off the brights to lessen his panic as he slid and trotted safely off the road. She handled herself well, not a close call, not even a little yelp.

Do you know what ? I’m always glad to discover that the moose hunters didn’t shoot all the moose again this year. Even if they are big monsters that come out of the darkness and startle a yelp out of me, it’s still nice to see them. Sort of.

And you know what else? Shelby’s pretty good at merging onto the Crosstown from 35W too. At some point, I’ll be OK with all this. I guess she’ll turn 16 either way, she’s going to get a driver’s license, and……..I guess, I’ll have to let her drive the Gunflint Trail. Alone. In the dark. In the winter. I just can’t imagine.

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2 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Ah the Ahrendt women’s moose/deer/wolf warning yelp. I can hear it now. Brings a smile to my face. Happy early birthday Shelbs!

  2. Karin Rorem Anderson says:

    Sue, I’ve had the same angst over my girls driving the prairie roads that drift into walls of snow… and yet, now after 15 months of Rory driving, I wish all people drove as well. I still believe it’s my responsibility to scare the shit out of them with scenarios that rival horror movies though…all good mothers would. Congrats on your mothering. And Shelby, bring your choppers and a flashlight. It’ll get really dark and really cold REALLY fast.