Symmetry – One Writing Mom’s Appreciation for Story in Life

DrivingI love book-ending in fiction — that practice where characters must face their touchstone issue at both beginning and ending of the novel, in contextually similar circumstances. I think it’s a brilliant way to demonstrate a completed character arc, and many of my favorite books use this technique.  

What I hadn’t observed is how often my life follows the same pattern.  But it does, you know. If you get in the habit  of noticing.


Here’s a recent family story to illustrate:

My daughter wanted her driver’s license from the moment she turned sixteen. Unlike many of her friends, who seem content to let their parents play chauffeur until they leave the nest, she saw it as a gate post to independence. So between band, working, school, and social life, she practiced and took the AMA course we lined up for her.

Then, about two months ago, she booked her exam. She walked into that registry office confident she’d pass. After all, her instructor told her she was ready; that every one of his other students had obtained their license their first try. And she went armed with her golden child status.

See, M was born smart, beautiful, and athletic.  To be honest, although she’s done well in the world, she’s kind of stumbled into success. So there’s a part of me that has always dreaded the day she would taste failure and been concerned about her response.

And I had my own reservations about the upcoming exam. For one thing, I thought her confidence edged into cockiness. (And let’s face it, it’s a good thing for any driver — let alone a new one — to check their ego at the garage door.) For another, her examiner looked like a witch.

So when M returned, crestfallen, defeated by parallel parking, my heart sank. No, she shouldn’t have passed. But would this be the thing to shake the can-do spirit she’s always had? The one I often try to emulate?

I wanted her to learn resilience; I just didn’t want her beaten down.

For a while it seemed as if she might be.  She didn’t want to drive. Didn’t want to practice. If we talked about setting a goal date for her next exam, she’d change the subject or leave the room. This, despite my doing the usual mom things, giving my best rah-rah pep talks.

We talked a lot about coping with failure, about reframing defeat into a learning experience. It took time, but eventually she was ready to try again. She rallied, practiced her parallel parking until she could whip our Odyssey van around a yellow school bus without pause. She booked her second, non-refundable exam.

Then the universe responded by sending out our first winter blizzard. You know what I did, peeps? I — the woman who’s always treated school as sacrosanct — kept M home, let her sleep in, and took her out in the thick of the storm for practice.

We slipped down country roads. We did circles in cul de sacs. We practiced three-point turns and got stuck, had to shovel our way out of the ditch. And we laughed.

Later that afternoon, when M walked in for her exam, she carried herself differently. The examiner — yes, the same one — would be convinced of her expertise. M knew, I knew it, and so did the woman. And it worked. In a five-minute ceremony that felt anticlimactic, M walked out with her permit. Her hair even cooperated for the photo. 🙂

And not surprisingly, while I sipped our celebratory vente decaf cinnamon dolce soy latte, no whip, I thought of you guys and how you might appreciate this story.

So how about you? Got any driving exam stories you’d like to share? Do you like book-ending as a storytelling device? And if so, have you noticed any real-life examples of the same?

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6 thoughts on “Symmetry – One Writing Mom’s Appreciation for Story in Life

  1. Wonderful story. I also like that in addition to having the skills needed for parallel driving, your daughter –and you– don’t have to fear bad weather, which is my bugaboo.

    I really didn’t start driving until I was in my 20s! Didn’t need a car where I lived.

    I am now a fantastic driver (and parker). But while rain doesn’t bother me too much, I won’t go out in sleet and snow after a heart stopping skid once.

    And I do love book-endings!

  2. Marisa, having M be able to drive in inclement weather was actually more important to me than that exam’s outcome. (And snow tires do help!)

    I’m not a bad driver, myself. But parker? Hahaha. Fortunately I live in a city I haven’t had to parallel park since my exam. 🙂 M’s almost persuaded me I should practice.

  3. That brought back memories! When I was 16 and took my exam we weren’t even down the block when I spotted the examiner check (I thought) the fail box on his sheet. That relaxed me. The stress was off, the rest of the drive was easy, since I’d already displeased him somehow. I passed. Turns out he looped through it as part of his signature. 😉

    And the parallel parking? It was the only time in my life that I just whipped in there with no problem. Since that test, I’ve avoided it like the plague.

  4. Similar thing to Laura– I was always turning to park too early. During my exam, the examiner started trying to convert me (born-again dude) and I was so distracted that I turned at the last moment to park, which it turned out, was precisely the right moment to turn. I basically learnt how to park by being stunned during my exam.

    Yeah, I think the book-ending in real life is a factor of where we cut the story. Cut it before her successful exam and it wouldn’t carry the same feel and meaning. But she took that next exam, and that awesome feeling is what made you share. It’s a great thing, and I love it. Both that and the unresolved ending have impact, depending upon, well..the story 🙂

    I’d have hated a non-bookended Pride and Prejudice! With Mr Darcy not sucking up his ego to save the Bennet family from disgrace… With Elizabeth not making the first move, finally, with no intention to joke… With Mr Darcy not making the successful proposal…

    *drifts off into imagination-land, wishing she had a copy of that movie now, the BBC version, naturally..* 🙂

    Awesome story!

  5. Laura, sorry to be tardy in my reply. I’ve been in bed a few days. 🙁 Ha! I love that story. Just goes to show how athletic endeavours are improved when people stay loose.

    Dirtywhitecandy, is there a book in particular you enjoy with that structure? I’m thinkin of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and how frequently she manages it. I like that about her work.

    Sputnitsa, yikes about your exam! Glad it turned out well anyway. And a few years ago I broke down and bought the BBC version of P and P. No regrets on my end for forking out that money. It’s been well-used. 😉

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