After more than a year of trying to get 60 hours of practice in, Gabrielle Baker is nearly ready to take her driver’s test. It’s been, dear readers, one heck of a long road. First, she needed to learn how to drive standard. Then she had to overcome considerable anxiety. Finally, she had to convince a pretty strict dad that she is ready to drive on her own (the two incidents in which she forgot to turn off the car upon arrival at her destination set her back).
The only step that remains? Learning how to parallel park.
Cue doom-conveying music here.
I don’t have a lot of tricks in my book, but I will say I can parallel park like a boss. Years of living in hilly D.C. and downtown Winnipeg honed my skill into a sharp point. My only problem? The only way I can do it is if I don’t think about it. Which means I’m almost surely going to be a crap teacher for Gabrielle.
But, we have five empty Tidy Cat litter buckets from her stepdad that will serve as markers. We have a sunny day. It’s a Monday so we have an empty subdivision. And, for the first time in months, we have all kinds of time.
We head to a parking lot in our subdivision and set up the Tidy Cats. We stack three buckets on top of each other in the back of a spot, and stack two in the front to mimic parked cars.
Gabrielle takes a few deep breaths. I take a few deep breaths. She puts it in reverse. I get the feeling you so rarely get in life where you know, you just know, that neither of you are going to forget this day.
She immediately hits and topples a stack of Tidy Cats.
She starts laughing the laugh that I know now, after hours of driving lessons, that she only gets when she is completely stressed out. It sounds jubilant, hearty, but it’s not that far away from tears.
I ask her if we can diagnose the problem.
“I can’t see Tidy Cats in the front,” she admits.
I go into the trunk and pull out the embarrassingly huge and orange ice scraper I bought for her for Christmas. I plant it inside the top Tidy Cat like a flag.
She tries again.
She is so shallowly “parked” in her spot that, if you were to turn the picture on its side, it would be like her car were a raft floating on water.
Gabrielle laughs and laughs and then doesn’t.
Gabrielle pulls into the spot very, very well. I ask her if she noticed the angle the car was in when she began to pull in. She says she did. I tell her that’s the key to parallel parking: getting that initial angle in right.
She looks determined. I tell her I’m proud. We sit in the car for a second, feel the wintry cool breeze from the air conditioning, which she has now turned down to 62 degrees.
After three more successful parks, we move the Tidy Cats to a very generous spot that sits beside a curb. Again, she has success, so I make the spot smaller.
Things begin to go South.
“Tidy Cats are stressing me out,” she says.
“Tidy Cats are here to help,” I say. “Tidy Cats are your friends.”
Gabrielle narrowly misses Tidy Cats and then stalls the car.
“Focus,” I say.
“What do you think I’m doing,” she says.
We continue to go in and out of the spot, sometimes successfully, sometimes exactly not successfully.
We decide she’s ready to try parking with an actual car behind her so I run and get mine to act as a guide. Though I don’t want to insult her, I park it very far away from Tidy Cats.
I stand outside watching.
By this point, we’ve attracted some attention from the subdivision. One man walks over and reminisces about when he taught his daughter how to parallel park — and how it was one of the very few times he made her cry.
At this point, Gabrielle is stalling the car nearly every attempt backward. The car has started to smell that smell broken cars have. When she moves the car forward to restart her attempt, she is accelerating fast to release her frustration.
I realize the lesson is nearly over.
Tidy Cats are stacked neatly in Gabrielle’s trunk. Gabrielle complains there is a “pool” of sweat under her thighs on the seat and when she gets out of the car, I see she is not exaggerating.
So ends Parallel Parking Lesson No. 1 with Stepmother.
Later, she tells me the handbrake “might” have been lifted for half the lesson.