All’s well that ends…

This last week, Roz and I were exploring the art (or should that be language?) of baby signing.

Very basically, baby sign language came from observations that the children of deaf parents are able to communicate earlier than the children of hearing parents. Research also showed that the children of deaf parents were able to communicate with their parents from as early as six months old using sign language. If you’re interested, here‘s where you can find more information.

Now, I’m hoping this means Roz and I can reach some kind of understanding soon, coz this madness with the waking up at all hours of the night has got to STOP!.. I’m also fascinated by the human mind and our abilities to adapt, learn and grow psychologically. So this opened up a new area of exploration for me, given that I don’t have to beg anyone for a kid as I finally have one of my own to exploit. Plus, how cool would that be?!

There was going to be a workshop last Thursday in the local community centre and I signed Roz and me up for it. Happy days! I went online and there is so much information there that to be honest, you don’t have to spend a cent to teach your child to sign to you, but this was more about the social aspect of it, so I decided what the heck, I’d fork over my twenty and go. Faye and Effie would be there too, so at least I’d know someone, which is always an added bonus for me.

I also decided to stop being silly and finally call a driving school and book a car for my driving test. Before I left for Zambia…actually, on the 31st March, I got a letter from the road safety authority confirming that my driving test date would be on Friday 13th May. I already have a driving license in Zambia and the SADCC region, but that counts for diddley squat here in Ireland so I had to complete the whole process from scratch. Coupled with the fact that my SADCC licence was issued in 2003, and I hadn’t driven a car from then till 2007, I was understandably nervous.

I’ve had a very bad history of trying to sit the practical test in Ireland. The first time I was given a test date, was 2007. Due to my silliness, I decided to pick a test centre that had a good pass rate. Only problem with that is that the test centre was on the opposite end of the city. I could have taken the motorway and saved myself time, but it’s a traffic offence for the holder of a provisional licence to drive on a motorway, so being the goody-goody-two-shoes that I am, I decided to drive through the city to get to the test centre. I started off at 9am after dropping Krys off at work. My driving test was for 12.10 so plenty of time, right? WRONG!!  I ended up being a mere, and I mean a mere five minutes late, and wasn’t allowed to sit the test.

Okay. My bad, as the kids today say.

So I reapplied, another €35, and this time I picked the Finglas test centre, which was twenty minutes away on the motorway. I received a letter telling me that they had a temporary test centre in North Road, so I checked the map and started off that morning. Well, I arrived in North road thirty minutes early and there was nothing but a few houses and an old playground. I got out of the car and double checked that I actually was in North road before calling the RSA to say dudes, what the hell?

I rang them and a snooty girl I got on the phone assured me that the centre was in North rod and I just had to look carefully. Look carefully? What was this, hide and seek? I rechecked my map, drove out, asked a few people and ended up right back in North road, with five minutes to go till my test. Well, I rang back, asked for the same girl and told her I was not going to pay for another test when they couldn’t be arsed sending me out the correct address.  

“Most people,” says miss snooty, “drive out the night before to make sure they have the right address first.”

I was speechless! The bloody cheek!

I threw a small tantrum after telling her off, and she said fine, they would rebook me for two weeks’ time for free. 


Two weeks later, (turns out there were two North roads in Finglas) I went to the test centre sick with nerves and completed the theory part. We got to the car; I popped the hood and completed the “knowing your car” bit. When we got into the car, I turned on the engine and the tester said

“What’s that light?”

“What light?”

He pointed at the bright fuel gauge light, 
“that one”

I explained that it was like that when we bought the car and wasn’t a problem. He couldn’t even look at me as he said that because there was a fault with the car, I would not be able to sit the test. I was crestfallen and upset. I vowed not to do that stupid test ever again.

Of course I knew I was being silly. I couldn’t drive on a provisional license forever, but it was just so maddening. In 2009 I decided to give it another go and reapplied for the test, another €35 gone. The letter arrived giving me a November test date but as luck would have it, it fell on the same Saturday as the training date for my volunteer duties so I had to cancel. They gave me a date for December and the great snowfall of Ireland meant they cancelled two days before I was due to take the test. They gave me a January date instead but I was terrified of the icy road and cancelled. €35 down the drain.

When I was five months pregnant, I decided I just HAD to get my license sorted out. How was I going to drive my poor kid around with “Loser” pasted to the windscreen of the car? I reapplied and this time the fee had gone up to (eek!) €75 for the test. Okay, I just had to pass it. I decided to get an hour’s driving lesson and us a driving school car. The lesson went well but the brakes were dreadful on the car. Still confident that I could pass, I went to the test centre and failed spectacularly. 

Granted, at that stage I had driven only the odd weekend, in the last two years but come on!

I reapplied, determined to pass. I’ve never failed anything in my life! How dare this silly test beat me? If some of the idiots I knew passed the test, there’s no way I should fail.

Yeah, real charitable person, me.

My next test date was three days before I was meant to give birth. I had ten hours of lessons in the same crappy car I’d failed in – with hindsight, not the best decision I’ve ever made – I liked the instructor though and had fun during the lessons. Not the best reason for using a driving instructor but hey.

The test was going well. I did a turnabout and a reverse and the tester hadn’t once touched the sheet. We then went to a roundabout, then another, then another, then another and I think my mind was just sick of them at that stage and drifted a little and the car climbed onto the kerb. Stooopid! Well, of course he marked the sheet. Instant failure. And all my confidence plummeted after that.  What was the point in even continuing the test knowing I’d failed? 

Vincent, my instructor, was very encouraging, telling me to just relax, have the baby and then reapply and retest…maybe buy a car to practise on. I’m sure he was secretly saying,

Kerching! Another ten lessons for me in the new year!

So anyhoo, I reapplied in February ( €85 fecking euro! Yikes!) and got my test date a few weeks later for the 13th May. Friday, the 13th May. But third time’s the charm right? I booked a new instructor for two lessons and crossed my fingers, hoping for the best.

There I was Thursday morning with Roz at the baby signing class with the big driving test cloud settling comfortably on my shoulders, and I was determined to enjoy the workshop and forget about the test for a bit.

It was fun! We had a lovely woman for an hour and a half. Faye and Effie were there, and Effie is sitting on her own now! She looked so grown up! It’s amazing how babies grow. Unfortunately it was only a small group of five mommies and babies, but very enjoyable. We learnt the signs for mama, baby, nappy, milk, no, and bedtime to get us started. We also learnt the alphabet and counting to ten, and got wall charts of basic signs and the alphabet. It’s actually quite easy and I do think I’ll continue. It turns out the sign I’ve been giving Roz all along for bedtime is the same one used in baby signing so hooray! I don’t have to change that.

But can you imagine, if I do this right, Roz will be able to communicate with me a little, as early as next month!

That afternoon, I had my lesson with Dominic, my new instructor. He started off by telling me he didn’t give lessons the way most instructors do. He would watch me drive for 15 minutes, then we’d park and he’d tell me what he thought. 

Well, after five months not driving, I was terrible! But I got the feel of the car and got better. When we parked, he looked at my last two test sheets and said,

“Mary, I know you can drive because in both tests, you haven’t got one fault on either your reversing or your turnabouts. So I’d say you just lack confidence. Your steering is very good, but you hesitate when you drive.”

He told me I had to believe in myself, that I had to keep have a mantra in my head – smooth driving and slow, confident steering- whenever I got in the car. Well I tell you what, if this guy started a cult, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

It’s amazing what someone believing in you, and saying kind words and not focusing at all on the negative, can do for you. I’ve always had low self-esteem and it’s very easy for anyone to knock me down by just saying something bad. Never had it been so apparent than during this lesson. I actually felt myself driving better with this mantra.

On Friday morning, (my test was at the unforgiving hour of 9:15) I drove for forty five before the test and when we got to the test centre, Dominic said,

“How do you feel?”

“Nervous as hell!” I said.

“Well, if you weren’t nervous, this would mean this wasn’t important to you,” Dominic said. “It’s good that you’re nervous. Just don’t let yourself lose confidence over it. Remember, you’re a good driver. A safe driver or I wouldn’t let you use my car.Put the tester at his ease so he watches the scenery outside and relaxes because he knows you’ll bring him back here safely. And remember, smooth driving and slow confident steering.”

Well, that was exactly what was in my mind the whole test. The only hiccup came when this idiot didn’t slow down at all and made a right turn without indicating and I had to step on the brakes a bit too suddenly. One x for reaction to hazards. And another x for my rash decision to join a roundabout too quickly. But apart from that, the tester didn’t touch his sheet again. I actually danced on my way out to show Dominic my certificate of competence and my test sheet.

I’m delighted with myself!

But it got my wondering what we can all achieve when someone just believes in us a little bit and tells us we can do well. Perhaps I would be a different person had I been encouraged more as a child. But I can’t change my past can I? It just brings home to me how much I can influence my daughter’s life by the attitude I have towards the things that she feels are important to her. 

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Dominic now. He’ll never know exactly how big a difference he has made to my life.

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