And you were looking forward to adulthood
Kayden’s car had “an issue,” she said.
It’s an old Toyota RAV4 she inherited from her mom several years ago, the kind of car that has been fixed up and patched up over and over again, the kind of car that when she sideswiped a bollard post in a parking garage, she took one look at the caved-in, bear-scratched passenger side and said to herself, “not so bad,” certainly nothing to worry mom or dad about, and just kept on trucking for a few months before the big reveal during fall break.
“Don’t tell mom,” she said, as we surveyed the damage together in the driveway.
“You don’t think she’ll notice that your car looks like it was T-boned by a rhinoceros?” I said.
But this is something different, a kind of chug-chug-chugging that was causing the car to sputter and balk, lurch and then sputter again, making every climb up a hill a white knuckle adventure.
We took it to the same mechanic we’ve been using for years, who told us a few days later that car needed a new water pump, tensioner rod, and a new belt, about $700 worth of repairs including labor.
“You want me to fix it?” he said.
These are never the words you want to hear from your mechanic, because they are code for, “This car is on its last legs, looks like a stepped-on beer can, and probably should be parted out or taken to the nearest junkyard. But it’s your money.”
If nothing else, this would be a good opportunity to discuss the finer points of what it means to be an adult with my adult-in-training daughter. When you are in your teens, you think that adulting will be a series of thrilling, very dramatic “big moment” decisions and actions, with great swaths of complete freedom between those moments to do whatever you want. You think of adulthood as a license to do virtually anything at any time with anyone for any reason.
Instead, it’s a never-ending river of stuff like this. Deciding whether to sink another few hundred bucks in a last-legs car in hopes of it getting your daughter through her last year in college, when she will graduate and take her first tentative steps toward—God bless us, every one—solvency. Either that, or we take on another car payment.
“Fix it, please.”
When you’re young, you think adulthood is going be cinematic, but it’s frighteningly prosaic. It’s remembering to stay hydrated and avoiding eating out too much. It’s a lot of stuff like that.
It’s about finding a retired engineer on Craigslist who sells reconditioned lawnmowers for fifty bucks that run just fine for five years instead of spending five hundred for a new one.
It’s about finding the gumption to go to the grocery store on a rainy Saturday when you’d rather spend the day in your pajamas reading in bed or binge-watching “The West Wing” for the fifth time.
It’s about finding recipes that make it possible to enjoy tofu and eating your produce before it turns into green sludge in your refrigerator.
It’s about learning which snakes are poisonous and which are harmless, and what to do about a hornets’ nest or ant infestation.
Eventually, as the poet Sylvia Plath once put it, it is looking in the mirror every morning when you brush your teeth, only to find old age rising toward you “day after day, like a terrible fish.”
Adulthood is a fascinating rebellion of your body against the folly of youth, when you could eat or drink anything with little trace of a consequence. Now, a single slice of Tiramisu will push your blood sugar over 250. Half a bottle of red wine will make waking up in the morning feel like climbing out of a muddy grave.
Adulthood is shooting pains, ingrown hairs, skin tags, age spots, and hair growth migration. It’s pulling a muscle when you reach for the tin foil in the top cabinet because you couldn’t find the lid for your Tupperware container, and you want to save the rest of the soup for lunch tomorrow.
It’s being on a first name basis with your chiropractor.
It’s trying to figure out how you are going to pay for yet another crown on your left lower molar without sacrificing your beach vacation. And your son needs new tires!
“Dad, DAD! Who says I want to grow up? Isn’t there anything good about adulthood?”
Black walnut ice cream. Baseball. Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. The Stones. October sunsets. Your favorite pair of shoes. A hot bath in January with a good book. Dogs. The neighbors’ donkeys, Maisey and Daisy, waiting everyday by the fence for you to give them treats. A marriage that has been battled for year by year and inch by inch. All the Kung Pao Chicken you can eat.
But you’ll have to make your own list, and you absolutely have to have one. That’s the deal. Welcome to your life.
And eventually, you’ll drive a better car.