It can be hard to write about your kids. You know them all too well, and somehow not well enough. You see them every day, but not always with clarity. It's difficult to be objective and unbiased with a subject you're so close to - like trying to appreciate a painting when your nose is pressed to the canvas. When you think about your own kids, you're so bloated with love, sympathy, pride and frustration that you can hardly think straight.

But right now, emotion and detachment aren't the problem. What's making it hard to write is the simple fact that my fingers are curled over and frozen into useless claws. I can barely hit the keys. On top of that, my heart's beating like a fist pounding a wooden table. I can't stop looking over my shoulder. My teeth are chattering. My arms and legs are shaking.

I've been teaching my daughter to drive.

Thirty years ago. I remember as if it were yesterday. The first thing my dad told me before I got behind the wheel. "A license to drive is a license to kill." Thanks, Dad. You were always so upbeat and encouraging! All I could think about was dying in a horrific accident. As if the gory filmstrips they made us watch in Driver's Ed weren't bad enough. I get it, though. Dad wanted to scare me into driving safely. It didn't work. I was a terrible driver, for many years.

You know what also didn't work? His many "helpful suggestions" and "mild criticisms" - offered with the deep, loud, insistent voice of a drill sergeant - that came every microsecond. In fact, Dad made me so tense I could barely hold the steering wheel. "Stop being so tense!" he screamed. "Relax! Loosen up, son! Get with the program!" Can you scream someone into relaxation? Was he being ironic? Can you get shell shock or Post Traumatic Stress from learning to drive?

I decided to not learn. No more lessons. It wasn't worth the aggravation.

A few months later, Mom said she was going to teach me. I stepped into her pale-yellow Volaré station wagon - bought with the express purpose of keeping girls away from me - put on the seatbelt, started the engine and drove off. She cracked the window a half-inch, smoked her Carlton Lights and occasionally whispered something like, "Please don't run over that dog." That's all it took. I learned to drive in a single afternoon. In this case, less was definitely more. My dad, an Army full-colonel and Ph.D., had led men into battle and briefed the Vice President and Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he couldn't teach a skinny teenage boy how to drive.

The next step, after Mom's lesson, was Behind the Wheel. Hector was my instructor. He rolled up in front of my house with five kids crammed into a beat-up four-seater. He wore a Panama hat and black, leather, fingerless gloves. Every day he'd have us drive to High's, the off-brand 7/11, for a newspaper and Snickers. He'd send one of us in with $2.00 and - this was 1984 - you got to keep the change. Each of us was supposed to drive for 30 hours, but no one got more than 10. Hector never used the passenger side brake or made us slow down when we were speeding. I'm not even sure he was a licensed driving instructor.

I liked Hector, though, even if he was a charlatan. Like Mom, he was laid back and calm, completely unflappable. He was such a minimalist, in fact, that he fell asleep a few times. He taught me to teach myself. He taught me independence and self-reliance.

Hector is much on my mind as I teach Annie to be vigilant and safe, cautious but confident, to share the road, obey speed limits and not use her middle finger as a signaling device. I want to teach her everything, all at once, and say it as loudly as possible, but that's no good. I think of all the adults who said too much, offered advice too freely - I never listened. It was the ones who only spoke when there was something to say. Their words have stayed with me.

I also think of Hector's battered car. I wish I had a passenger side brake in my Kia. We're still driving around an empty parking lot, but a few times my daughter's come uncomfortably close to crashing into a lamppost or jumping the curb. I hope she learns how to drive soon, for the sake of her confidence and my weak heart. I hope she makes good choices, in and out of the car.

Not like me. One rainy night when my parents were out, and I only had a Learner's Permit, I opened the garage and slowly drove off into the darkness. I didn't bother with my glasses or a seat belt. I was just going to tool around for a few minutes, get the feel of the road. Maybe pop into McDonald's for a second dinner. It only took a few minutes, rushing down Old Keene Mill Road, for the car to hydroplane. I floated above the blacktop with no way to control the car. It was only a few moments but it seemed like forever. Time was suspended. It would have been exhilarating if I wasn't so scared. Nothing bad happened, though. I didn't crash. I didn't even swerve.

I returned home right away, to give the engine time to cool down before my parents came home. I put the radio back on Mom's station and returned the volume knob to a more plausible level. I wiped the rain off the body of the car.

As I teach my daughter to drive, I try to remember what I've learned. So far it's been OK. No screaming or bad language. A few tense moments, but that's to be expected. I offer calm and supportive words, even when I don't entirely believe them. "Good job! Well done!" Some drivers use only one side of the road, but my daughter's using both of them. She must be twice as good as everyone else.

I might be feeling like Dad on the inside - poised to nag and bark - but I act cool and calm like Mom. I'm not quite as laid back as Hector, though, not as negligent or narcoleptic. In fact, Behind the Wheel is coming up soon and I'm going to investigate driving instructors with tireless intensity. No one with a Panama hat or fingerless gloves. No one who eats Snickers. This is my precious daughter we're talking about. I'm teaching her to drive, and she's giving me lessons of her own.


Andrew Madigan is a freelance writer. His first novel, "Khawla's Wall," is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and a few very hard to find book shops.