I started driving fairly late in life, and learning to drive will be forever entangled with the early years of immigration for me. The theory was easy but the practical skill of driving turned out not to be. It’s hard to separate my own lack of confidence and skill from the culture shock I was feeling, and the ever present shadow of a dysfunctional relationship with the boyfriend who taught me to drive.
After I got my license (and eventually broke up with the boyfriend) I drove quite a bit for a while. But the moment I didn’t have to, I stopped. It was never quite relaxing. I always preferred to walk if I could. We bought better cars for our growing family. Riley, our first, was a fireball of a baby in many ways, and she hated the car. I attempted taking her to a few places by myself and ended up on the verge of tears as she worked herself up into a screaming mess of pure distress and anger. After a few times I almost completely gave up driving, even by myself. I still haven’t driven our car with all three children in it.
These days my life is very different from those early years in Australia when I was learning to drive and tried desperately to fit in, it’s better in almost every possible way. I’ve got a family who keeps me grounded even when I feel like I’m losing my mind. I have deep friendships. Better job. Better job prospects. And today, probably for the first time in my life, I realised that driving to a shop well and truly felt easier than walking even though it’s not a long walk. There was no struggle in my head over it. No “everyone is doing it so you should be too!”, no “don’t be a chicken and just do it”, no “oh well I know I can do it and I will”. Just getting into a car, driving there, parking, getting the ice cream and driving back.
It truly felt like amazing progress, even after over 10 years of driving.
For most people in Australia it probably is nothing. They might have not moved to another country by themselves with no money to speak of or rebuilt their life from scratch by themselves; they might have not mastered another language or got two degrees or had twins; but driving – that’s a given for most people, more natural than walking in many cases. But it is significant for me.
These days Riley loves being in a car and we go to the beach together. We got a second car so I could drop her off at school (she’s starting “big school” in a week!) and she enjoys the simple little car even more than our big fancy car with reverse camera and leather seats. In some ways, so do I.
It’s the little things that strike me sometimes when I look at my past achievements. Being able to make small talk and joke around in English. Being comfortable with phone conversations and meeting new people (a double bummer for introverts who speak a second language). Hopping into a car and just driving wherever you need to go. We concentrate so much on bigger things: our relationships, our jobs, our bank balance but the little things can be such a struggle precisely because it’s something that is seemingly effortless for everyone else but you. I might strike another little thing off my list now and that’s a great start to a new year.