First Drive

by Alissa

In late September Ace left us on our own for a whole week of math conference. Not only did this leave us alone, it left us alone with the car. You might think that would be a good thing, having a vehicle, but I’m not a big driver even on my good side of the road. We spent a lot of time out walking around that week. The car sat in the garage, mocking me.

The thing is this: As beautiful as it is here, as high as the quality of life may be, I dread many things about living in Australia. Most immediately my fears include snakes, spiders, and driving on the other side.

As I walked to gather groceries, it struck me again that we’ve really moved to the other side of the planet  (look right! keep left!). The clerk said, “G’Day.” I paid with plastic money. As I pushed my kid, a sack of rusty-earthed potatoes, a bag of frozen hoki fillets, and a backpack full of kiwi fruit through the twilight up the long hill home, I decided I need to make progress on conquering my immediate fears if I’m ever going to cope with the biggies: Being two days out of physical reach of the rest of my family. What to do if Ace had a fatal shark encounter, or, or, or…

It’s true that shark fatalities are rarer than car accidents.

They don’t even require us other-oriented drivers to take any kind course or pass any tests.

They should.

The beaches, the library, shops, parks, churches, galleries, museums, ATM, YWCA-with-a-trampoline are accessible on foot from here.

Having a car and not using might be worse than not having a car at all.

Hey! I looked right without reminding myself. Driving on the other side is something I could master.

I might have continued over-thinking this all on foot indefinitely, but then we received an invitation to visit a new friend far beyond our walking radius.

The day of the First Drive dawned. We breakfasted. I dawdled over a baking project. Before getting in the car, I was vibrating with anxiety anticipation. Instead of throwing up, I packed Octavia and the muffins and a beautifully hand drawn map (not  by me) and we went to visit our first local friend.

The car is automatic, which is probably a good thing, with the wheel already being on the other side, and the traffic. What to do with my left foot is the least of my worries.

The neighbor parked straight behind our door, and it took me a good five minutes to find the right touch on the gas to squeeze out without hitting the other car, make an 8-point turn, and swivel up the driveway, which might be even narrower than the garage. The jolting action I attributed to Ace’s feeling macho in our fancy Italian car–which resulted in much sliding around in the back seat where I’d been cowering for the past two weeks of car outings–is actually just how the car shifts.

As we crested the driveway, and at each subsequent milestone in the next 17 harrowing minutes of driving, O earnestly complimented my efforts. “Good job, Mommy!” It kept me going.

The first truly terrifying moment came when I drove through a roundabout. God-help-us-look-right-keep-left. I turned in–CLOCKWISE–signaled, and exited onto the correct street. It was over in seconds. I may have shed a tear of relief, but there was no time to stop. Three mind-bending turns later, we pulled up outside T’s house, where she stood on the porch waiting to see me pull in.

Our visit was lovely. We sat outside and received hours of good advice on Newcastle, admired the chickens and fruit trees, and found every excuse possible not to drive home again. Finally I did it. O fell asleep on the drive. I carried her into bed we both slept for another two hours.

The second drive also required a recovery nap. The third drive did not, so perhaps I’m making progress.