By Ruth McKinnie Braun who is the publisher of Such A Smart
Mom, a California-based Web site for parents who want to help their
children thrive in school. She is a former reporter and editor for
The San Diego Union-Tribune and the mother of two teens.
Life changed around our house this
As I write this post, my daughter
is taking her first driving lesson with a man named Carl. And a few
days ago, she brought home her first PSAT scores. Emma is 15 and the
oldest of our two children.
It’s been raining off and on since
she left, and I’m more than a tad nervous. She’s assuming her rightful
place in the driver’s seat and I need to be a passenger. Strike that.
For now, I need to be her navigator, her co-pilot, her adviser.
Much has changed since I learned
to drive. I took a driver’s education class at my Northern California
high school the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. I learned
along with a classroom of peers. I had the benefit of a simulator before
I hit the open road.
Not today. The Golden State scrapped
driver’s ed years ago to save money, but certainly not to save lives.
Emma is out there one-on-one with
Carl. No simulator to get her accustomed to being behind the wheel.
She climbed in the driver’s seat for the very first time in front
of our house and drove away down a steep hill.
After her two hours on the road with
Carl, my husband and I will take over as Emma’s instructors.
Much has also changed on the road
to college. Back when I was in high school, I took the PSAT, SAT and
ACT one time each. I didn’t take a prep class, and I certainly don’t
remember my parents stressing out about how well I did. And my high
school had enough guidance counselors that mine actually knew my name.
Today, California high schools have
the lowest ratio of counselors to students of all 50 states and the
District of Columbia. Add to that recent front-page news that California
public colleges are tightening their admission requirements due to tight
budgets and it’s no wonder teens and their parents are stressed.
The other night, Emma’s school
held a workshop for parents whose children had just taken the PSAT.
About 100 of us came out in the rain to listen to a friendly young woman
representing one of many, many test prep companies explain how to interpret
the test and make a pitch for her company’s services.
It was an attentive audience. Most
of us took copious notes. The leg of a dad sitting next to me was shaking
so violently I thought there was an earthquake. I’m not kidding. I
asked the mom next to me if she felt the shaking. When the tremors didn’t
stop, I realized that Daddy-O to my right was a nervous wreck.
What’s a parent to do? Here’s
Remember my past and the patience
my parents showed me. I’ve been driving for 35 years. It’s second
nature. But I can sure remember my dad taking me to a hill near our
house and teaching me to drive a stick shift. We lived about 20 minutes
south of San Francisco, so he wanted to make sure I could stop and start
on an incline. Suffice it to say I cried. I had to stop and start it
seemed like 100 times. If I stalled the engine, I had to start all over
again. I never thanked him for this education, but I was thankful many
times on those steep hills in the city.
Soon after I got my license, I got
my first (and only) ticket for failing to yield the right of way to
oncoming traffic. It was a Saturday night and I was out with a carful
of girlfriends. This was back in the day when a 16-year-old girl could
drive with friends in the car.
I got home around 11 and my parents
were in bed but waiting for me to get home. I told them what had happened,
not knowing what the fallout would be. Here is it in its entirety: “That
was stupid, Ruth, really stupid.” That was my dad talking. I seriously
remember exactly what was said.
I was the youngest of four and had
learned from the mistakes of my older siblings. I had a solid understanding
of how far I could push the envelope. This brief but biting drubbing
from this patient man and the silence of my mom was all I needed to
learn a valuable lesson.
I graduated from college 29 years
ago. My high school grades were good – but not great. I’d loved journalism
from the time I took my first class in seventh grade. When it came to
deciding where to go to college and what to study, here was my parents
advice: Go somewhere new, and try many different classes before settling
on a major. I tried a lot of classes, but, ultimately, journalism continued
its tremendous hold on me.
Remember who’s most important.
For most parents, that first look at your newborn in the delivery room
is all you need to know that you aren’t the most important person
in the world any more. That feeling never wavers.
Decisions my daughter will make over
the next few years will be hers to make. I can advise her, support her,
nudge her to do what’s best. But, ultimately, she needs to do what’s
best for her. I have every confidence she will do the right thing
Look to others for advice and
a shoulder to lean on. As parents, we sometimes don’t want to
admit that all is not perfect in our world. It’s as if we’re afraid
that asking for help is an admission of failure.
We aren’t the first to go through
this phase with our kids; we’re surrounded by many who have gone down
this road before. My daughter plays water polo. She’s nearing the
end of her season. I love watching strong girls do battle in the water;
I can’t help thinking that no one will ever push them around.
But I also love talking to the other
moms, especially those with daughters older than Emma. Their advice
and support are priceless. From them I learned the name of the driving
school where Carl works, and I’ve learned that Emma should take an
SAT subject test in chemistry at the end of this school year while the
information is still fresh in her brain. We’re still talking about
the many options for preparing for the SAT.
Use my head.
With untold information available at our fingertips, we have no excuse
for not doing our homework. One smart choice for parents with
teens learning to drive is safeteendriving.org. And the Web is filled
with great sites for college planning. My favorite is collegeboard.com.
Use my heart.
What more can I say?