Mike Birbiglia’s School of Driving

Teaching my kids to drive sets fire to just about every one of my worst traits. I am really not cut out for the job. If it weren’t for Mike Birbiglia’s comedy CDs, my kids would never acquire the driving hours needed to get a driver’s license.

There was a period of time when I was a calm cat sitting in the passenger seat with one of my kids backing up and turning around the car in the driveway. Driving on the road changed everything. By the time Zander was ready to drive to a place more than one hundred yards from our house, I was so at ease that I didn’t even give him too many tips on how to do it. Plus, we live in a rural area. Two hundred yards down the road, I was launched into a crazed state. My right calf was fully cramped because I stomped on the imaginary brake, I had a grip on the “oh shit handle,” and my backside was off the seat in fully coiled fear-flex.

Decades ago, I did some therapy to help me manage my catastrophic thoughts. Fear of the dark was an obstacle for me, but I used the strategies and breathing techniques in all areas of my life. None of this work converts to the kid learning to drive gig.

The speedometer read 20 MPH, but it felt like 50 MPH. I warned him that we were heading into the ditch in a strong tone. He overcompensated by crossing the yellow line. I practically screamed at him to move back over. When I heard sticks crackling on the edge of the ditch, I lost it, “PULL OVER. PULL OVER!!”

Zander stopped the car in a neighbor’s driveway. Between heavy breaths, I said, “I think you need more practice before we do this.” He said, “Mom, I think YOU need more practice before we do this.” We both laughed, and I drove back to our driveway. He was right.

Each time I drove with him, I could maintain calm for a longer stretch of distance from the house. Ultimately, I would burst out with some feedback in an aggressive tone. There was no gray zone building up to my panic response; the transition from calm to crazed was a matter of seconds. Fear of an accident that could cause injury to us or other people was the primary source of my irrational fear, but the potential costly car damage was an additional factor. I handed the driving school baton to Bruce who is a calm, patient soul.

There were times when Zander needed driving time for his driver’s Ed log, and I happened to be the one who was there with the car. There were other times when he asked to drive, and I declined because I was already in a full state of fret and angst over something like as pathetic as a lingering to-do list or being late. Sweating the small stuff is my jam thanks to some attentional challenges compounded by an aging brain and a few head injuries over the years. Keeping thoughts wrangled is a challenge for me. Clearly, I am due for some more time on the couch addressing the fact that I equate completing a to-do list with slaying a dragon, but that would add to my mental clutter. Somehow he would convince me that he had to have the driving hours. Nothing brought Zander and me to a lower level in our relationship than these drives

Mike Birgiglia saved us all. Everyone enjoys the comedy of Mike Birbiglia. His humor is delivered in a calm, unique manner. One is not pounded with humor listening to Birbiglia. His stories unfold and build as if they are happening in real time. It seems like he becomes aware of the awkwardness of moments right along with the audience as he tells the story. Sometimes the cringe of his situation gets so thick for the audience that he says, “I know… I am in the future too.”

Mike Birbiglia’s “Two Drink Mike” happened to be on the CD player when Zander got in the driver’s seat one day. We let it play, and it changed the whole dynamic between us. I was distracted and calmed by the humor of Birbigs. By putting out a calmer vibe, Zander was feeling less under the microscope and more relaxed, therefore his driving was better. We laughed our way through a lot of driving miles. Even though Zander is a licensed, competent driver now, we keep Mike Birgbiglia CDs on hand in both cars. And it is a good thing because our daughter Sadie is practicing driving on the road these days. Totally different kid with a totally different style of driving, but I am the same tweaky mom. Mike Birbiglia will get us through.

For more info about Mike Birbiglia and to find out how to see him live, go to birbigs.com

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