Don’t be fooled by the picture.  That was taken last Wednesday. Let me take you back to last Monday, two days earlier.

Characters: Olivia (16 year old daughter) & Lori (age-not-important mother)

Location: Department of Motor Vehicles

It started at 1:00pm when I picked my daughter up at school to take her to the DMV for her   scheduled behind-the-wheel driving exam.  She was excited and nervous at the same time. 

On the way, we had a few minor disagreements about how to turn on the high beams and where exactly the windshield wiper button was.  Living in CA in 2014 has not provided much experience with driving in the rain.  Moving on.  We get to the DMV on time, only to wait in line to register her for the appointment.  She had to show proof of registration and insurance, of taking driver training course, and that she still had her permit in her possession.  This line took about 20 minutes.

We then proceeded to move the car into the line to wait for an instructor.  Think Autopia at Disneyland.  We were 6-8 cars deep and Olivia was really nervous about the wait and all the details she was trying to remember.  She was especially anxious about the automatic fail situations she’d been told about by other 16 year olds.

During the next hour, we reviewed how to turn on the hazard lights, high beams, rear defroster, emergency break, blinkers and headlights.  She reviewed the arm signals and how she was going to remind the instructor to buckle up for safety.  Rumor has it, if she did not mention this, and they don’t put on their seatbelt, it’s an automatic fail. 

Fortunately for Olivia, she had plenty of time to review everything, as we waited in the Autopia lane for over and hour.  She would start the engine, move up, break, stop the car, and turn off the engine.  Repeat.  By the time we reached the front of the line, she was convinced that asking the instructor about St. Patty’s Day and her radio station preference would take the edge off and guarantee her a pass.

Once we arrived at the front of the line, I stepped out of the passenger side of the car, nodding politely to the instructor.  Olivia was ready and there was no turning back now.  Or so we thought.

It was no more than ten minutes later, after they reviewed the instrument panel that I turned to see her walking towards me with buffalo tears in her eyes.  Oh no.  Automatic fail.  I just hoped she didn’t ask the instructor if she enjoyed green beer after reminding her about the seatbelt.

She knew every button and switch in the car and no disrespect or inappropriate questions were asked.  Here’s what happened.  After all that time, the car died.  Dead battery.  Olivia was crying and questioned why this was happening to her and I was trying to start the car.  The instructor was looking at me compassionately and the now 15 cars behind me were all staring, wondering how long this delay was going to take.  Cue perspiration.

I called my neighbor, who works from home, assuming he could get to me sooner than AAA.  (My husband was out of town and I was trying to salvage a bad situation about to get worse.)  I reminded him to drive ‘in’ the ‘out’ as I was in the front of the line clogging up DMV traffic.  While I waited, the instructors moved one car at a time through the Vehicle Inspection lane to proceed with the tests.

He arrived in 15 minutes and clamped on the cables. His engine roared.  Mine did not.  It wouldn’t start.  We waited 15-20 minutes and tried it again.  Nothing.  I decided the least we could do is push the car out of the way.  No luck here either.  The car was stuck in park and could not be shifted into neutral.  More tears from the back seat while I rummaged through my wallet hoping I took that new AAA card out of the mail pile and replaced the old one.  Whew…found it.

I called AAA, explained to them my location and circumstances.  For some reason, I felt the need to tell them how disappointed my daughter was and how many cars were waiting in line behind me.  The operator was kind, sensed a possible freak-out and pacified me with a hopeful wait time of 35-45 minutes. 

I sent Olivia home with my neighbor, tried to nonverbally apologize to the cars behind me with a subtle shrug of the shoulders, and crawled back inside the car (now known as a ‘piece-of-shit’) and started to cry.  Why?  I could explain all I had to do during those lost three hours, or tell you how bad I felt for my daughter.  But the truth is this situation was out of my control and it was a sign that I was clearly overwhelmed.  My cup had officially spilleth over.

The unmistakable yellow tow truck met me in the front of the line 45 minutes later.  He attached the cables and my car started immediately.  I asked why it wouldn’t start for my neighbor, but can’t remember the technical explanation.  It was something about possible cable size. At that point it didn’t really matter.

The manager of the DMV kindly rescheduled Olivia for two days later, first thing in the morning.  I spent the next two days letting her drive my car instead of the POS, and tried to recognize what happens when we play role of a Super Hero and think we can take on more than is humanly possible.

A week has passed and I’m happy to be laughing about the situation as I type this post.  Olivia drove through Autopia on Wednesday morning like a pro.  She was confident, calm and passed her test.

I’m trying to adopt that calm approach to my daily list of chores and realize that I can’t control every situation.  But I can control my attitude and reaction when faced with an unanticipated surprise.  Ususally, the outcome is more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe.

I wonder if the DMV offers any classes on this because I would be the first to wait in line and sign up.

Candidly yours in the passenger seat,