September 4, 2016 by whirlyjoy
Mimi turned 15 this past spring and now she’s learning to drive. It turns out that, to my great horror, I’m the one who’s supposed to teach her this skill.
I can think of no one less qualified to do this. No one. My own driving is fully defined by anxiety, as applied to my intense dislike of speed and physical risk. The only positive thing I can say about my driving is that I manage to do it, in a family with a history of non-drivers in past generations. Big Jane never got behind the wheel, even as a working mother with five children, and when Papa Sax drove her she preferred it to be in a nice, long vehicle like their Buick, pointing out to us grandkids huddled in the back how much space that put between us and the point of impact when the inevitable head-on collision she was always anticipating would occur.
When I was born and Opa picked Big Jane up at the Boston airport to take her to the tiny apartment where I was making my first, loudly successful efforts to upend his and Posh Nana’s young lives, she refused to get into the front seat of his dark blue VW bug, instead stretching out as low as possible in the back, from whence he heard her voice rise up periodically to warn him about oncoming traffic and beg him to check his speed.
Posh Nana herself gave up driving after her first lesson, when she narrowly avoided plowing right through the picture window of the neighboring family’s house and into the dining room where they were sitting, frozen and staring, while Papa Sax repeated to her gently, without panicking, to please use the brake now. “All I could remember was that you’re never supposed to slam on the brake too hard,” she says defiantly, “so I was braking very gently!” Her sister, my Auntie Pasta, does drive but will generally only take routes with no freeway or left turns. I consider this a blueprint for a successful backup plan on the days when the Seattle streets, or just life, feel too fast and frightening. “If you really need to you can get anywhere that way,” I tell Mimi, diligently communicating my fear and anxiety to her as she settles in, quaking, behind the wheel.
Sister Eenie did step in for some of the very first sessions. “I taught Smooth Stu to drive,” she said of my nephew and his newly minted license, although when asked for details of where and how she became vague and recalled that his father must have done most of the early lessons with him. Still, it was she who took Mimi out on the local streets for the first time. My daughter reports her to be a far superior teacher, who “doesn’t white-knuckle the handle above the passenger door or cringe when I pick up speed.”
Many years ago when Aida was first gathering together her multiple diagnoses — hearing impairment, sensory integration disorder, autism, anxiety disorder, etc. — I was industriously collecting information about all of it. I took her to audiologists and developmental pediatricians and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists and mental health specialists and blended preschool classrooms, I spoke of what I learned from each to the others. I was constantly battling to understand and share information that I could barely wrap my (sleep-deprived) brain around, and was clearly — clearly!! — not qualified to be handling like this. I kept waiting for someone, one of these many experts, to realize how very much in-over-my-head I was, how utterly ill-equipped and unsuited to this role of coordinating Aida’s care between a small jumble of barely overlapping spheres of expertise.
One day I finally broke down and said this to her doctor. “Who is supposed to be doing this job?” I asked. “Which of these people is supposed to be pulling together all the pieces for the rest of us?”
“You mean something like a case manager?” asked Dr. Chris.
Oh my god, a case manager, I thought, that’s what they’re called. Joy at discovering this rose up in me, relief that the next right expert, after all the others I’d already got on board, had now been identified. “YES!!!!” I shouted — in my imagination I was leaping across the exam room to grab her up and swing her around, such was my gratefulness that someone had at last understood. “That’s what we need! A case manager! Where do we get her a case manager!?” “There isn’t really anyone who does that other than you,” replied the doc.
Seriously. They put me in charge, the crazy bastards. And my only qualification is that I keep choosing to accept the job. White knuckles and all.