Reverse Psychology

Martha Wegner and her daughter steer their way through the finer points of parking.

It all started with my daughter turning 16. For those of you with a baby at your breast and a toddler playing havoc with the kitchen cupboards, trust me, these children will turn 16. And they will want to do what every child at this age wants to do. Like drive. Now.

I have to say that, as a parent, there are many tasks for which one feels ill-equipped. These might include feeding, changing nappies and trips to the emergency department. But nothing compares to sitting in the passenger seat of a 1500kg machine, knowing that your smiling offspring is completely in charge. Nothing.

My husband and I took turns driving with our daughter, Allison. Our daily conversation had degenerated into one simple argument: “It’s your turn”. “No, dear, I believe it is your turn.” Meanwhile, Allison would stand with her eyes rolling, toes tapping, keys jingling: “Someone here needs to take me driving. Who will it be? You know, I don’t like this any better than you do. Dad yells too much, and Mum never lets go of the door handle. Honestly, I know what I’m doing.”

And she did, mostly. A few wide turns, some jerky stops, but for the most part, the girl was getting it, no thanks to her white-knuckled parents.

Then came the day we were dreading. It was time for Allison to tackle her final driving challenge: reverse parking. It sends a shudder through my system just writing those words. I have been known to drive up to six blocks away from a restaurant, despite the presence of a perfect spot right in front of the door, in order to avoid reverse parking. The problem was that I had long since given up on it. I distinctly recall my own driving test at the age of 17, when, towards the end, the assessor told me to park between two cars. With much sweat and determination, I ended up in the designated spot… about a metre from the kerb. The guy was in a charitable mood, and he passed me anyway, with the mild suggestion that I work on that last skill. I told him I would. Instead, I simply avoided it.

My husband said he would teach our daughter to reverse park, but I said that no, it was time for me to take the car by the steering wheel, so to speak, and learn what I had failed to master 30 years earlier.

I decided that there had to be a method to this parking madness, and it turned out that I was right. I turned to the internet. When you type in “how to reverse park”, it seems that everyone in the driving population has a suggestion. I printed out three of the methods. Allison and I set up two garbage bins with plenty of room between them. We tried Method One and ended up miles from the kerb. Method Two had us knocking over the garbage bins, although I will say we ended up within spitting distance of the kerb. I tossed the failed directives into the back seat. It turned out that Method Three was just right. It really was pretty foolproof. Using it, Allison managed to reverse park three times in a row. I claimed the driver’s seat and even I could do it! We were giddy with our achievement. I told Allison to resume her rightful place in the driver’s seat and to start driving up the street.

Every time we saw a parked car, I would casually say, “Allison, why not park the car here?” “Yes, Mother,” she would reply in a feigned formal tone, as she eased into the space. Up and down the street we went, high on success. When we got home, we congratulated each other heartily, and she strutted around with her hands on her hips. “I know how to reverse park,” she proclaimed to her adoring imaginary audience. Yes, indeed, victory is sweet.

The next day was her driving test. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait inside the [CC, SC: motor registry; AC, BC, MC, PC: testing centre] with the other anxious, nail-biting parents. I knew we had it in the bag. When, at the end of the test, Allison pulled up in front of the [CC, SC: registry; AC, BC, MC, PC: centre], did a quick reverse park, and smiled slyly, I knew we were victorious.

I let Allison drive us home with her brand-new driver’s licence tucked in her wallet. I laid my head back in relief, smiling with satisfaction, my hands resting in my lap. And when we were near our house, this old dog asked her daughter to pull over; it was time to show off my new trick. Taking the steering wheel in hand, I drove the car forward, reversed in between two cars in front of our house, turned off the engine and smiled. Yes, Mum had parked the car.

Illustration by Giles Evans