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Daddy's Little Girl Learns How to Drive
Mary Matsumoto

Yeah, I know, it's hard for me to believe, too. It wasn't that long ago that she came home from the hospital cuddled in my wife's arms and all bundled up in that pretty pink blanket, that shrivelled little face peeking up at her old man.
"I'm your daddy," I said. "Up here." I watched her eyes struggle to find my face. "You're my little girl."
But now she's all grown up. Got her temps the other day, believe it or not.
And today I'm taking her out on the road. Yeah, her daddy's gonna teach her all the tricks of the trade. Sh-h-h, there she is.
"I'm all set, Dad. Can I have the keys?" She walks to the car, a model of confidence. After all, she passed the driving test at school gleaning an A.
That's my girl. I smile, reach into my pocket, and hand her the key to the family car.
She grabs it and heads for the driver's seat, and I take my place at the passenger's side. Before getting in, however, I take a peek around, hopingthe neighbors are watching. Mrs. Peters is out watering the lawn. She glances this way. "I'm taking Debbie out for a driving lesson," I shout. "Yeah, she's learning how to drive."
Mrs. Peters smiles and waves. I wave back and proudly take my place next to Debbie. She turns on the engine and slips it into gear.
"Okay, honey, I don't want you to get nervous now. Pulling out in traffic can be a pretty scary ordeal, but, remember, I'm right here next to-"
Debbie slams her foot on the gas pedal, squealing the tires. A horn sounds from behind, and a car swerves out of the way.
"You can let up on the gas pedal a little. There. Like that. See, you don't have to press it down to the floor." I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself. No sense making my daughter panicky. "Just a little at a time." I notice her eyes, wide, and her fingers clenched tightly around the steering wheel.
"Gee, Dad, your car's so different than the one at school."
"It's okay, honey, just relax." I try to keep my voice from wavering.
"But let me make one, little suggestion."
"What's that, Dad?"
"Next time, you might like to check your mirror to see if anyone's coming before you pull out into traffic."
"Oh yeah. I forgot."
"We all forget sometimes, but it's kind of important. You want to be careful about that." I turn back to see a stop sign rapidly approaching.
"A stop sign-"She slams on the brakes, and I feel my seat belt press against my chest. We're in the middle of the intersection by now, and a truck is barrelling down on us. "I think you can go now," I say. "Quick." The car takes off again, jerking a little as she tries to adjust her speed, but I'm relieved to note that the truck has missed us. It's one of those times where you were sure he was going to hit, had even prepared yourself for the impact, when, miraculously, he found his way to the other side, and we are still there, unscathed.
"Sorry, Dad. I guess I'm not used to driving with you. You make me, well, kind of nervous."
"It's all right, honey." I reach over and pat her hand, trying to stop my own steady. "But you know those stop signs? Well, it's kind of important to stop on the other side, before you get into the intersection, but you'll remember next time, won't you."
She nods. "That's good." I'm beginning to realise that these driving lessons aren't turning out to be the kind of experience I'd visualised. "Okay, why don't you turn right whenever you can."
Debbie puts on her blinker, and I relax again. Good, good. She checks her mirror and eases over into the right lane. I don't know what I was worried about. She's a wonderful driver. That's my girl. My little girl. I smile, watching her turn the wheel, and look up just in time to see a
"Do Not Enter, One Way" sign and at least ten cars aiming our way, like darts to a target. Debbie freezes.
"Into the driveway." I point a shaky finger. "Over there. Quick." Amid a concert of blaring horns, she follows my instructions, and we sit there a while trying to recover. When I think I can speak with a steady voice, I look at her and see tears in her eyes. I reach over and take her trembling hand in mine, remembering when she was six and we had just removed the training wheels of her bike. Seems to me we've sat here before, a teary-eyed little girl with her little hand in her father's. "It's okay, we all make mistakes. We'll go out again tomorrow. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day." I give her hand a pat. "How about if we combine your lesson with a demonstration?"
"Demonstration? What do you mean, Dad?"
"How about my demonstrating how to drive from here to the Dairy Queen for a couple of hot fudge sundaes?"
The corners of her mouth flicker and a smile wins out. She bends over to give me a hug, and the car starts to move forward. "Just one more thing," I say, reaching over to put the car in gear.
"Why don't we get this into park first."

© Mary Matsumoto April 2003

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