Saturday, October 9, 2010
My hand had just come in contact with the glass when the phone rang. A Friday night, prime for kicking back and watching a movie with my husband, an adult beverage seemed like a good idea. Hearing my ringtone trill caused me to freeze before I'd even had a sip. I knew the chances were good that my son was calling for some form of rescue. My husband answered my cell phone.
Last July I wrote a post called Generation Phone Home and among my real life friends, and a couple of online friends that descriptor took hold. A couple of my friends with kids will refer to their own experiences with their children with things like, "Generation Phone Home struck again."
It's just something that modern-day parents can relate to, evidently.
My son had a flat tire last night, and needed to be talked through things like loosening the lug nuts. Then another call when he was done because, "Mom, now my keys won't turn in the ignition!" I rather reasonably asked if his steering wheel was locked in place, which it was. Jiggle the wheel back and forth, son. Jiggling proved key.
I hung up and my untouched drink sat beside me. I knew better than to think the matter was closed until my son walked through the door. Sure enough, five minutes later, my son phoned home again.
"The spare is flat," he said from the depths of his understandable despair.
"Okay, where are you?" I sighed, but my husband reached for the phone and informed my son that he would be coming to get him. He advised me to go ahead and drink my cocktail.
You see, it's been a month since my son hasn't needed some form of rescue at least once a week. He locked his keys in his car as the opening bid and I took a spare key to him. I made sure to hang around and get it back, so I could return it to the file I keep it in. He lost his wallet on campus, and the campus police called me. He needed to be driven to get that, as trust me on this, my son attempting to drive without his driver's license in his possession is just a recipe for disaster. There have been a couple of other things, too.
This morning, as my husband woke my son up in order to drag him off for tire repair, we sat together and discussed what we were both like at twenty, wondering if my son was more, or less of a disaster. By the time I was twenty I lived across the country from any of my family. If something went wrong, I had to fix it myself. That's all true, but something occurred to me as I told my husband about the flat tires I have known.
The first flat I had was at nineteen, and I quickly discovered that I didn't have a crowbar in my possession. Brainstorming I remembered I had passed a service station a mile or so back. I grabbed my purse, and began walking. I made it precisely a half a block before passing a road construction crew.
"You have a flat?" The crew boss called to me.
"I do, I don't have a crowbar though, so I'm going to the service station," I replied and thought I'd keep walking.
"We've got a crowbar!" The man, clearly he was quite amused as I was dressed for work in a Chi-Chi's waitress outfit. Hey, it was my summer job but if you'd seen that uniform, you'd have a good idea what was cracking up the road crew. I looked like an extra escaped from a John Ford film in which I should soon declare something about not needing, "no stinkin' badges". "C'mon guys, let's go change a tire!"
And with that, four public works employees downed tools with a clatter, and trouped as one over to my Mercury Lynx. That's right, my car had about as much dignity as my outfit. I followed meekly and watched.
The next time I was driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading back to Colorado after a visit back East in my late twenties, when my tire blew. I had literally not finished pulling over before a pickup truck was pulling in behind me, and a large man leaped from the interior.
"I saw your tire blow, figured I'd lend a hand," He proclaimed and over my protests about how I appreciated the help, but I had what I needed said, "Honey, I've got a daughter your age. I'd want someone to help her."
He wouldn't take any money from me, just directed me to the next exit's Firestone to get the flattened tire repaired. By the way, that man was secretly a member of the Tire Changing gods because I've never seen anyone so efficiently do something, while fielding an attempt at polite protest the entire time.
By the time I had my next, I was thirty. I'd had a business meeting in an office park that ran late, and when I came out to my car, found that my tire was busy settling into permanent disuse. Flat is too mild a term for how thoroughly that tire had given up on life. I must have run over a school of glass-shard-coated piranhas in a spike-lined puddle to bring about that level of flat.
Well, dammit, I wanted to change that tire. I was in a parking lot, there was no danger under the street lights, and the time had come for me to prove to myself that I, an empowered woman with a fully working knowledge of how to change a tire, could do so. I'd jumped a huge variety of cars, taken care of a host of other maintenance issues, but I had yet to successfully change my own tire. Come hell, high water; damnation or flood, I was going to do this for myself. Only I couldn't get the hubcap off.
Never fear, I walked into a nearby office building, interrupted some sort of meeting in progress and asked the assembled group of men if anyone had a screwdriver, as I wasn't able to pry my hubcap off. Outside it began to bucket down rain.
Do I even need to add that instead of handing me a screwdriver from his truck, the man who came outside with me insisted on changing my tire, as I made small sounds of protest, and held an umbrella over his head? Or that when he was done, he handed me the flat-blade screwdriver I have to this day and said, "You should keep this, just in case."
I like to tell myself I am part of what I referred to as Generation Save Your Own Butt, but the truth of the matter is a little closer to being that I evidently can barely hit a public street without someone attempting to rescue me instead.
There are a lot more stories like that. Just earlier this year I was at the Home Depot, buying a ladder that was quite lightweight but ungainly at an almost epic level, and I ran a near gauntlet of offers of help trying to get it to my car. I'd wheel my cart four feet, balancing that bad boy, and every single person I passed offered to help me. Young men, older men, a particularly muscular woman. I must have a homing beacon implanted in my spine that sends off waves of perceived helplessness. That or there are a lot of good, helpful people in this world, and I don't discount that possibility.
So was I really any better at working a problem, or was I set down on this earth with a particularly delicate-looking countenance that makes other people practically stampede to my rescue? Truthfully, it's a bit of both. After my encounter in the rain, I spent the next Saturday practicing changing my own tire, just to prove to myself I could if the need arose.
Rob told me his stories, all of which involved simply muscling off a tire, replacing it with a spare, and heading back down the road. I shared my theory that perhaps I was fooling myself that I was any good at riding to my own rescue. Many a protest issued forth from my tall husband, why I was the most capable woman he knows, he'd seen me put out a literal fire with his own eyes. Watched as I'd ducked passed him to get to the main water shut off when a plumbing problem occurred, and he didn't even know where it had been. My husband defended my independence so much, but it did seem a rather charming example of protesting too much.
Sure, I could do things for myself, when I had to.
"Yeah, thanks, but there's just one thing..." I began and faltered.
"When you offered to go and get him for me, I let you." It was true, I hadn't protested much at all, just asked if Rob was sure, and then gratefully picked up my drink when he told me he was.
"Oh you can't count that!" My husband leaped to my defense, "Four times in four weeks you've had to go and take care of things for Flint, and it was dark outside and..."
He went on as I listened with growing skepticism about my own independence, remembering how I'd gladly allowed him to ride off to my son's rescue. Sure, the ready cell phone may have arrested self-sufficient development to some degree in my son's generation.
But maybe a fraction of it was learned behavior, after all.