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How My Toddler Taught Me to Be a More Patient Driver

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I live in a part of New Jersey where you have to drive to get pretty much anywhere, which means I spend my fair share of time behind the wheel. And though I’m ashamed to admit it, I often find that driving brings out the worst in me.

See, normally, I’m a pretty considerate person. At the supermarket, for instance, I’ll help a random elderly person snag something off the top shelf, or offer to let someone with just a few items go ahead of me on the checkout line. I really don’t know what it is about driving that turns me into such an impatient beast, but often, when I’m behind the wheel, I’m that person—you know, the intolerant jerk who beeps if the driver in front of me is going too slowly. Or the one who keeps stopping to turn and then changes his mind. (Oh, and if you do that thing where you slow down as we approach a red light so that you just make it, but I just miss it, forget about it—I’ll be cursing you in my head the entire time I wait.)

My not-so-pleasant side reared its ugly head just last week while driving my 4-year-old to preschool. It was a rainy day, so people were going a bit slower than usual, but one such driver decided to take the idea of cautiousness to an almost laughable extreme. This person decided to go about 10 miles an hour down a 35-mile-per-hour road, angering not just me, but the line of drivers in front of me. Somebody started beeping. (It wasn’t me—I promise.) Other cars started following suit. I was just about to make some sort of nasty comment about people needing to learn to drive, when my son asked, “Mommy, why are all the people beeping?”

I explained that there was a driver up in front going very slowly, and that the other people on the road—myself included—wanted him to hurry up.

“Well, why is he driving so slowly?” my son inquired, to which I snidely replied, “Oh, he’s probably afraid of the rain.”

I glanced at my son in my rearview mirror expecting him to bust out an eye-roll to mimic mine, but instead of doing that, he came back with, “But then, people should be nice to him if he’s scared, and they should stop beeping.”

It was then that I realized what a complete asshole I’ve been on far too many occasions to count. Here was my son (who, like most toddlers, is often the textbook definition of “impatient”) showing compassion at a time when the rest of us grown-ups were either slamming our fists down on our horns, or fighting our natural inclination to do so. At 4 years old, he was handling the situation more kindly and maturely than the rest of the adults around him, myself included.

At that moment, I made a promise to myself. I promised that going forward, I’d do my best to exercise more patience while out on the road—not just for the sake of the poor drivers who have to share it with me, but for the sake of setting a good example for my very observant son.

Of course, I’m certain I’ll screw up repeatedly—especially on those days when I’m running late and I really, really need to not miss every single traffic light on my way to wherever I’m going. I’m sure I’ll let some choice words slip when a driver fails to signal, cuts me off, or does something to prevent me from sailing down the street as if I own the road. But I’m going to try hard to do better—because my son deserves a role model who knows how to keep her cool and treat her fellow drivers with respect.


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