How My 4 Year Old Pushed Me To Conquer My Fear Of Taking The Wheel

Posted: May 2, 2019

I had learnt to drive as an 18 year old, but crazy traffic put me off, until being a mom in a country where cars were essential to everyday life made it absolutely necessary that I drive.

Road. Traffic. These words created havoc in my life and projected hostility.

I learnt driving at the age of 18. The reason I wanted to get behind that steering wheel was that I really wanted to. I knew driving is the art of survival, a complete necessity, and the earlier I master the art, the better it will be for me.

I inaugurated my journey on the road with a Maruti Zen, in 2002. I ardently told my father that the day I turn 18, I need to take driving lessons. He was quick to find an instructor and together we began our lessons. Papa was supportive and accompanied me to those drives, seated on the backseat.

It was new. It was exerting. It was challenging. It was conquering the anxiety in you which yells, “This is unattainable.”

Driving is a two facet job

One is to acquire the basics. To master the art of making an alliance with (ABC) accelerator, brake, and clutch. It demands time and practise to get the rules embedded in your head in regard to indicators, taking turns, U-turns; basically making a smooth drive.

Second is to learn the art of survival with the other vehicles on the road. It was the other aspect that scared the bejeezus out of me. I knew I could drive, but I did not appreciate others on the road. Yeah, I expected to be alone, to sail without the hassle of others driving on the same route. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

You see, the uncertainty of other drivers triggered my anxiety. It’s difficult to read their minds and the constant fear and thump in your heart do not let you concentrate. Unfortunately, the road is not your property and you aren’t the only driver. Many others are on the road and that idea petrified me. Driving defensively does not come naturally.

Nonetheless, I learnt to drive back then. It was a year of dedication and I was proud of that. Learning the right art at the right age always pays.

But then practising that art is equally important

No sooner had I parked my car one last time to move to another country for higher education, I parked it for good. As time moved on, my intuition told me to grab that steering wheel again, but I always found a good reason to avoid it.

Fear is sneaky and often leads one to stand on the side lines, the safe zone. Motivation is replaced by procrastination. Like, when I was in the US, I said that right side driving would be challenging for me. When we were in London, we did not own a car due to the amazing connection that the city offered. When I was in India, I always created a cover on the grounds of hectic work life, then my pregnancy, followed by the risk of driving with a toddler. And whatever hope was left was soon taken over by Ola and Uber and their availability throughout India. It was easy conveyance at my convenience.

But then, my 4 year old pointed the way

And then last year October I came to Melbourne. At the start of our stay, we were putting up with one of my cousins and his wife. Both of them drive to work and one of the days as Ruchika (my brother’s wife) was parking her car in her house garage, Mysha (my four and a half-year-old) called out and appealed to her: “Ruchi Mami, kya aap please meri Mummy ko drive karna seekha sakti ho?”

I was flabbergasted. Even my daughter identified driving as an absolute necessity. I always say and will continue to say it out loud, “Your kids are your best teachers.”

That day I knew that commanding the art of driving will come soon for me and that happened to be in January of this year. Shahzeel, my husband and I were out for grocery shopping while Mysha was at home with her maternal grandparents.

“Her Kinder starts from next month. Buses here don’t have good connectivity. Driving seems to be the only option. I need to start soon.” I confided in him.

“Soon you say?” Saying so he gave the left indicator and parked our car parallel to the kerb.

“What?” I knew what he suggested but sneaked instead.

“Drive!” he demanded.

I inhaled and exhaled even louder.

“Mysha is not in the car. We have twenty days before she starts Kinder. NOW is the time.” He reasoned, got out of the car and we swapped seats.

I knew I had it in me, but…

I knew there is no rocket science behind it. It’s just a vehicle. If anything, things would be easier than in 2002. Of course Maruti Zen was much smaller to manoeuvre as compared to a Jeep Cherokee, but then the latter is automated. No clutch or gear to handle. You only need the right foot to control the break and accelerator. There is cruise control to take care of your speed and engine. So basically all that is needed from you is to keep your eyes on the road and follow the rules.

The moment I plugged the key in the keyhole, I felt I had reignited my lost relationship with driving. I remembered driving, the basics were intact but the confidence had to be gained.

One thing I have learnt is that everything in this life that scares you uplifts you. The day you make up your mind to quit the toxic relationship with fear, you discover that uncertainty is the gateway to a possibility.

One step at a time

Firsts are always important and so it was for me when I first drove in my suburb in Melbourne. That one first led to many others. It started with a simple drive down the lane, then to our close by grocery market, then one little far away. Then came picking up my daughter from Kindergarten (It was easier to pick her up at 1 PM, with less to no traffic as compared to 8 AM morning drops at peak hours) but soon came drop offs to Kindergarten too. One step at a time.

For the initial drives, Shahzeel accompanied me to align me with the driving tactics and to guide me. Even my little girl assisted me to reverse my car while buckled well in her car seat, “Haan. Koi nahi hai peeche. Back kar lo Mummy.”

I have always been a cautious driver, so following rules weren’t back-breaking but then a new country comes with a new rule book. I read 176 pages of the Victorian rule book to driving last month to install a Melbourne road rules compliant driver in me.

Taking up the challenge

In western countries, pedestrians, cyclists, trams and buses are the kings and you need to be very observant. It’s easier to drive here as compared to India but then you need to play by the rules. One wrong turn can wrong you for life. Speeding tickets cost AUD400 and that can push a wedge in your heart.

Driving solo for me, at first, was below average. Lack of confidence and the absence of an experienced driver seated next to you shakes your morale a bit. It took time for me to grab the steering wheel with both hands and steer my life towards what I wanted. I really wanted to be an independent driver.

Last Saturday happened to be a big undertaking. We drove from Melbourne to Sydney due to his work. I gauged it as the perfect opportunity to open my account and deposit some miles on the freeway. The challenge of the freeway is speed, which is 110kms/hour, but then challenge has to accepted someday. The heavy SUV and the broad roads did not make me feel the flying speed but overtaking vehicles, especially tank trucks made me work really hard. It was my Everest!

When my car ran parallelly to a 10-meter long steel truck at 110kms/hour it made me shudder. My right hand on the steering wheel was tempted to move more to the right due to my phobia but then I controlled my steering wheel with my left hand. Every time I crossed a heavy vehicle, I felt a win. Win over me, over my demon, though driving can’t be won, like any other sport; but it will come from practice.

I drove two hours on the freeway that day and I know it is the beginning of a new era.

So far the journey from fear to faith has been quite liberating. It wasn’t easy but when has it ever been? It will take hours and months for me to fully relax. I still drive sitting on the edge of the seat. But yes, I’ve conquered my inertia. It’s about taking the first step and then another, and then keep going.

When you surrender to the flow of life, accept it, let go of the baggage, you enjoy the exciting ride. That’s when life gets really fun.

A version of this was first published here.

Image source: shutterstock

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I did my MBA in finance and was part of the corporate world of market

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