“Son, Can I use The Car Tonight?”


School-kids-going-to school

A better way to travel to school each day.

 (From a Series of Four Articles on Parenting and Family Life First Published in 2005)

I recall somewhere in the recesses of my aging brain a time past when kids actually asked to borrow the family car for the evening. Heck, I even recall myself uttering that request to my folks many times. In fact, it was a science. If you had a hot date (in my case that was more a generic term for any reason to get away) you waited all day for the right time to pop the request.

Sometimes doing those little chores you normally avoided just to put the parental decision-maker (knowing which parent to ask was most important) in a good frame of mind. And then once you asked the question it was important that you grovel a bit and look sincere as the one granting your wish dangled the keys like a carrot on a stick while reciting the familiar drive-carefully-and-pay for the gas-you-use-and-I-want-you-back-by-eleven speech (sometimes with future ‘chore’ clauses you had to promise to accomplish). Without a doubt it was the artful application of psychology, persuasion, and negotiation, spawned by greed and selfishness, which in the end resulted in loving extortion. But it was the right of passage when you were a teenager.

Well, my friends, I am sorry to say that all that has passed into history like the Model T. Why, you ask? Well, for us it seemed to have all started when our three charming offspring entered high school. One of the ‘advantages’ to living in suburbia is that the school is generally on the other side of town. My wife and I hail from a large urban area and all the schools were within walking distance. We never complained about the walk because our parents had to walk 5 miles to school everyday butt naked in a blinding snowstorm during The Great Depression. But not our kids. They wouldn’t even wait a block away for public transportation on a pleasant Summer’s day (that’s so un-cool). See, the problem is that thing in high school called ‘extra-curricular activities‘. It doesn’t matter what sport, club, or activity it is, they all get out at different times. As a result my wife and I have spent our formative middle aged years schlepping our young not-so-innocents to and from the school.. sometimes multiple times a day. Couple that with catering to their social requirements of being dropped off or picked up at friends’ homes (also across town)it’s no wonder we were too weary to go to PTA meetings.

So one day as I sat in front of the school on slow burn as the fencing club was again going into overtime I vowed that this would all stop when the kids got their licenses. We are far from rich but I decided there and then to make sure all three of them have a car even if it was just rust and duct tape. I had more important things I could be doing, like earning money and paying bills and other fun adult things. Since my kids are all close in age they all pretty much got their ‘passes to freedom’ at the same time and all three were chomping at the bit at the idea of their folks buying them each a car. They were even quite willing to provide their own input as to their preferred vehicle of choice, even if it was going to be something used.. oh, maybe a year or two old. But, much to their chagrin (and much to the ease of our budget) we managed to provide three ‘wonderful’ vehicles from the previous decade with mileage to match; basic transportation. Alas, I was free! Three vehicles for the kids and one for my wife and myself!

Life was wonderful. Oh, sure, trying to fit our family fleet of four vehicles in the driveway or on the street was a challenge, as well as the inconvenience of doing the car shuffle to ‘unbury’ someone who had to leave the driveway (always the buried one who has to leave right away).. but it was worth it. But then one day the inevitable happened.. the parental vehicle broke down. This was not supposed to happen in my grand plan. I had a ‘hot date’ planned for that evening.. my wife and I were going to dinner and a movie. So I approached my oldest in some instinctive groveling manner, “Son, can I use your car this evening?”

I put on a face of empathy and sympathy as I listened to a tirade about how this was going to cramp his evening’s social activities but in the end he dangled his keys on front of me and gave me the drive-carefully-and-make-sure-you-pay-me-for-the-gas-you-use speech, adding that I owed him big time for this ‘favor’.

As I reached for the keys in his hand I found myself almost saying, “Thanks, dad!”

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2 thoughts on ““Son, Can I use The Car Tonight?”

  1. Love this! And so true! We are a family of four with three cars! And only because my 8th grade son doesn’t drive yet! I swore I’d never buy my kids a car…UNTIL I ended up being a private chauffeur for my band geek kids who have concerts, rehearsals, and competitions all over the state. Suddenly I couldn’t wait for the older one to drive! Never say never. 🙂

  2. Well, at least your entertainment kids will likely achieve a measure of fame and fortune which (hopefully) will benefit you sometime down the road as they realize how it all couldn’t have happened without mom’s driving skills and gasoline investment.. and then feel guilty enough to provide you the lifestyle which you want to be accustomed to in your declining days. Or not. (Elvis bought his mother that pink Caddy… so maybe there’s hope.)

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