Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car

By Gregory Keer

After three transmissions, enough mileage to circle the globe seven times, and more nicks and cuts than an undercard boxer, it was time to get my wife a new car. We scoured the review sites and spent many an afternoon test driving with our three human cyclones before Wendy settled on something that made her eyes twinkle.

More than that, getting the shining automobile felt as if we both were hitting a reset button amidst the ragged frenzy our lives have become as parents with multiple jobs, three kids, and too little open space.

When we got the “baby” home, we had the talk with the kids.

“No more smashed goldfish crackers,” Wendy warned. “Or misplaced apple cores, melted crayons, or sandy beach souvenirs.”

“We promise, Mommy,” they harmonized like those charming chipmunks you know are about to wreak havoc.

Later, Wendy gently brought me into her circle of caution.

“I know it takes you a while to get used to driving new cars, with the different dimensions and everything,” she said. “So, it’ll just be me taking it out for a while.”

I was absolutely fine with that. I had a habit of cracking side-view mirrors, backing into brick walls, and (yes) trying to duck a moving forklift within the honeymoon period of our last couple of new autos.

For the first three weeks of this one, all was fine. The kids treated the fresh wheels like white carpet at the grandparents’ house.

Then, one night, after an exhausting day, following a frenetic week, on the heels of a month of never-ending demands, I had to drive my son to an evening basketball game. Sadly, as much as I wanted to enjoy the thought of seeing my son on a court, I had little joy left in me. Seeing this, Wendy told me to take the new car.

“That’s OK,” I muttered in my best Eeyore tone. “I don’t want to be the one to put the first ding on the car.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “You’re ready.”

So, my thirteen year old and I went outside. I opened the door, caught the scent of new upholstery, and — clunk – knocked the freakin’ thing into the neighbor’s ridiculously massive cinder-block pillar.

My stomach dropped. It was a cruel twist of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I paced back and forth, stopping furtively to assess the damage. There were scuff marks on the rubber molding at the edge of the door. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t much. In the moment, it looked like I took a sledgehammer to the car.

I slumped into the driver’s seat, greeted by Benjamin, who didn’t even try to contain his laughter.

“You were so worried you were going to do that,” he spit out through guffaws.

“Be quiet,” I snapped back.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “It’s – too –

“It’s not funny,” I groused.

Already late for the pre-game warm-ups, I pulled out of the driveway, wracked with guilt. Benjamin kept cracking up.

“Are you going to tell Mom?” he asked.

“Of course I will,” I said, holding on to whatever teaching moment I could in the situation.

I spent the game watching my son’s team win an exciting contest while I did enough hand-wringing to rival Macbeth.

At home, I performed the one defensive act I knew to do. I exaggerated beyond belief to make the reality seem like nothing.

“I feel like I totaled your car,” I blurted.

Wendy smiled. “Well, did you?”

“I scratched the side of the door and I’m sorry and I knew I was going to screw it up and I apologize for damaging the one new thing you have.”

“Is it really that bad?” Wendy said, wincing a little.

“To me it is,” I replied.

Wendy took my hand. “I was going to get a scratch sooner or later. I’m glad it was you.”

I exhaled and hugged her. She wasn’t giving more guilt than I was heaping on myself.

A day later, our seven year old ran his scooter into the bumper, gashing the paint.

His guilt lasted exactly two minutes.

To my sons, who laugh and move on from errors of small consequence, scratches and dents come with the territory of living life at full tilt. It will take me a while, but part of my own growing up involves adopting this philosophy — though it’ll be another couple of weeks before my wife lets me touch the car again.

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Piloting the Father Ship

By Gregory Keer

My friend Bruce is a guy’s guy. He works as a structural engineer, designing such manly things as football stadiums. He’s got a rugged British accent, which obviously helped snag his lovely wife Kathleen. And his sons, with the masculine monikers of Jack and Ben, share his interest in sports cars (though they play with the Matchbox variety).

Speaking of which, Bruce just purchased an Infiniti with tons of horsepower and nimble handling—perfect for this seeming kinsman of James Bond. “How ‘bout a spin,” he asked before taking me on a high-speed test drive. I admit the ride was a rush and the aerodynamic body belonged on a pinup calendar.

Despite the heavy-metal appeal of this mighty machine, my thoughts were on acquiring a different sort of vehicle—a minivan. When I confessed this to Bruce, he nobly hid his disappointment in me, saying, “Minivans are very…practical.” What he really meant to say was, “You wuss! You might as well just turn your gonads in at the dealership!”

For this sacrilege, I have probably lost my membership in the boy’s club.  As if my crying at romantic comedies, passion for fruit-flavored cocktails, and partiality for the color purple were not enough, my lust for a minivan is an unforgivable sin against the brotherhood of middle-aged men.

After all, what kind of man yearns for an automobile traditionally driven by soccer moms? What sort of guy pines to pull up at fine restaurants in a glorified delivery truck? What manner of male swoons over ample storage capacity and 15 cupholders?

To make matters worse, my wife, Wendy, expressed concern about my testosterone levels when I first admitted my obsession. “I don’t even want to drive it, and I’m a girl!” she stated. She further reasoned that she “wasn’t ready to give in to the whole suburbia image.” She was afraid of becoming the very stereotype she scorned in her pre-motherhood days.

But I was undeterred. I felt like the little boy who liked to play with dolls in that ‘70s show, Free to Be You and Me. Social status be damned, I wanted my minivan. For me, the car symbolized my willing acceptance of fatherhood. And my kids, the true judges of proper travel at this point in my life, thrilled at the prospect of a seven-passenger marvel. Every time we passed one of the countless minivans in our community, Benjamin would offer his take, “I like that one Daddy. It looks big enough for us” or “That color isn’t right. Let’s get blue.” With all this support, I began to dream of being the captain of something fairly unique—a Father Ship.

As sci-fi movies have taught us, the “Mother Ship” is the lead space cruiser of most alien species. It’s what E.T. returned to, finding comfort in its womb and its promise of returning home. While I don’t exactly desire a womb (I’m not that evolved!), I do like the idea of blending the “Mother Ship” concept with that of Captain Kirk, the macho leader of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise. Thus, I imagined myself the captain of a Father Ship that would lead my children on adventures in kindergarten, tee-ball, and the all-important road trips.

Still, Wendy needed something more convincing than science fiction. So I took her to the dealer to convince her that my minivan of choice was not only practical but masculine, when painted midnight blue. She test drove the car and found herself surprised at the handling and quickness. She also appreciated the passenger and storage space, the price of the soon-to-be discontinued model, and—the coup de grace—remote-controlled sliding side doors. Upon seeing the fold-down third row seats, I whispered the final reminder that my gonads need not be turned in: “Honey, we have plenty of space back here if we want to work on that third child.”

My current children are enthralled. From his carseat, Jacob kicks his legs all he wants without banging on the seat in front of him and luxuriates in his personal air-conditioning vent. Benjamin chooses the “way back” where he feels like the big boy, especially when he has buddies sitting back there with him. He’s also a master at demonstrating the features of the minivan, particularly the accident sensors in the side doors: “This part is so cool. You won’t even smash your fingers,” he tells friends, young and old.

This ultimate family cruiser intrigues many of my friends, from the sports-car dads to the SUV moms. I’m pleased to have won their acceptance, but I did this for the good of my “crew.” I have my Doctor (Wendy, who is prone to say, “Damn it, Gregg, I’m a Ph.D., not a miracle worker!”), my Spock (at five, Benjamin is more logical than I), and my Scotty (at two, Jacob is often as unintelligible but good-hearted as that famous engineer). With them, I explore the frontier of parenthood in a Father Ship and boldly go where few men have gone before! Wendy just has to make sure she’s not in the van when I’m wearing the gold and black jumpsuit.

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