By Hannah Reich Berman
“Free at last. Free at last. Thank G‑d Al–mighty, we are free at last!”
That quote, by the late Martin Luther King Jr., best expresses my sense of relief as of 3:08 on Friday afternoon, September 21. That was the moment my granddaughter sent a text to let me know that she had passed her road test. The news, which might not sound like much to others, was of such significance to me that I remember the day, date, and exact time!
Clearly, my grandchild thought she was the happiest person in the world, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she wasn’t. Actually, the title of happiest person belonged to me, because it meant that I would no longer have to spend several days each week chewing on my fingernails in fear as I sat in the passenger seat next to her while she practiced her driving.
I don’t flatter myself that I was specifically chosen to help out, because I am well aware that it was by default that this job fell to me. Nobody else was deemed suitable. My granddaughter didn’t like practicing with her father, because she claimed he was a backseat driver. I refrained from explaining that, as she was a beginner who was, after all, just practicing, it was his job to be a backseat driver. Her mother, my daughter, wasn’t an eligible candidate, since my granddaughter doesn’t like her mother’s vehicle, which happens to be a large SUV. That got her mom off the hook. Lucky her!
This granddaughter is the fourth child in her family, so I had hoped her older brothers would be able to help out. It wasn’t to be. My firstborn grandson, the oldest brother of the fledgling driver, had a schedule that kept him busy from early morning until late in the evening. His explanation was irrefutable. He said that he goes to school part time and works part time, and that two part times equals full time!
Grandson number two also goes to school and works, but he really hit the jackpot with his explanation by reminding everyone that even if he did find an empty hour one day a week, he was ineligible to help. His 21st birthday was on September 18, and that left only two days of practice time before the scheduled road test. According to New York State law, a driver holding only a learner’s permit must be accompanied by a supervising driver at least 21 years of age.
Grandson number three was never a consideration, because he’s in Israel; and even if he were here, he’s only 19.
As a result of these family stats, I was the “last man standing” and so became the prime candidate. Actually, not just a candidate; apparently I won the election! There was no getting out of it, as I am not too busy, I drive a midsize sedan, I am not the backseat-driver type and don’t nudge drivers (even new ones) as she claims her father did, and I am well past the age of 21! In conclusion, I couldn’t say no to the request for help. And that’s how it happened that I was slated to be the one to take my beloved granddaughter out for her practice drives.
The first thing I did was to put my friends on notice that my social schedule had to be altered ever so slightly. Since the practice driving had to be after school hours, all evening plans, such as dinner engagements, going to the movies, and playing mah-jongg or canasta would need to begin later than usual. I explained that this was temporary and that as soon as my granddaughter passed her road test I could resume my regular schedule.
My pals, being grandmothers themselves, understood that my commitment to helping my grandchild took preference over all else, but there was one thing they didn’t understand—and not one of them hesitated to let me know what that was. They were surprised by what I was doing and all made the same comments to me: “Wow, good for you! You should be very proud of yourself. I’m much too nervous. I could never do that. I just wouldn’t be able to sit in the car with a new driver—grandchild or no grandchild.”
The remarks were complimentary and, along with my granddaughter’s sincere gratitude, they were a reward for what I was doing. So, I chose to accept them graciously without mentioning that I didn’t actually volunteer for the assignment. Quite simply, I had been drafted. But I kept my mouth shut about all of that. I just smiled modestly and basked in the glow of my friends’ admiration. I also never divulged to them that I seriously thought about asking my doctor to write a prescription for tranquilizers.
I considered asking, but I never did. And that’s what makes me the most proud! I was a nervous wreck each time I got into the car, but I managed to hold it in so that my granddaughter never knew how I felt. Neither did my friends—until now! Hopefully, however, their memories are as weak as mine and they will forget this admission when I start driving practice with another grandchild. And I expect that to happen soon. My other children and grandchildren know that I did it for this grandchild, so chances are good that I will be asked to do that just a few weeks from now, when another one will have completed his driver-ed class. Apparently my “Free at last!” proclamation doesn’t carry much weight. It’s temporary at best.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.