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.