An Ode to My (Unintentionally Feminist) Auto Mechanic

From Flickr User motor74. A much newer edition of my car.
From Flickr User motor74. A much newer edition of my car.

There are about 3 things in my life right now that I wish were different. The main one is that I wish I hadn’t landed, as an adult, a mere 100 miles from where I grew up, in the same state. I wanted to be someplace more urban. Or at least some rural scene that is less familiar. Like in Alaska or something.

A good mechanic is hard to find anywhere, though.

I’ve found my good mechanics more often by talking to other women than by luck.

My car is not a country car. It rebels against potholes and ice. It has about as much get-up as a 90-year-old mule. It is tiny, great for parallel parking, and has a manual transmission, which is the only thing that saves me in the snow. It is also inexpensive and great on fuel. It would be a great city car. I would be a great city girl.

Recently, a terrifying noise started coming from someplace under my car.

A loud tapping or ticking that I could feel in the steering column and under my feet as I turned hard to the right. Or left. Or soft to the right or left. I worried it was a bad shock because suddenly whenever I went over a small bump, my head hit the ceiling and Child complained about being car sick. On the way to school. Ten minutes.

I worried it was my axle which, when I thought about it, was more like this: I hope it’s not my fucking expensive.

So I called my auto mechanic. The trusty and affordable Bob Creveling of Creveling’s Garage & Towing.

I found Creveling’s by accident. My car shit out last winter parked in front of a girlfriend’s house for coffee after dropping our kids at the bus stop. A super nice country-dweller helped me get it started, then we took it up to Creveling’s. I had no clue what was wrong, and extremely limited financial resources.

Bob Creveling asked me what was happening, listened, nodded, and offered a hypothesis without talking down to me.

When he figured out what was wrong, he explained it to me and answered my questions without acting like I had no right to be asking them.

When he gave me the bill, it was under $100.

I wish I could tell you this is normal in my experience.

It is not.

I bet other women will attest that it’s not.

I bet other women have horror stories about paying $4,000 for repairs that they later found would’ve cost $600 at a different garage.

Here are other times Bob + Renee Creveling have gone out of their way to make my car work without costing a million dollars: My muffler got a hole in it and was making a terrible noise. A new muffler would’ve cost $600 before markup. Bob welded it back together and charged me $90. My car needed a tuneup (new spark plugs). It has these fancy iridium tipped sparkplugs that cost $20 each. They didn’t mark them up, at all.

Once, I took my car there for an oil change and waited. It was spring and they allowed Child and I to sit on the back porch of their home (they live in the same building as the garage) and watch their little TV. They gave me coffee. When my car was done, Bob came and sat down and had coffee with us. He asked Child about school. He asked me about life. We talked about country beauty, the sound of the creek.

Not in a creepy way. In a nice guy with good people skills way.

In a way that evinces trust of human kind, sincerity, a desire to be kind and to do right by people.

So when I drove up to Creveling’s gingerly on Monday morning, I was already a little in love with the Crevelings.

I avoided bumps and I tried to steer gently. I didn’t go too fast.

Bob accidentally locked my key in my car, then lent me his car so I could go get my spare set from town, twenty minutes away.

When I got back, he offered to drive me somewhere while he looked at my car. I just walked down the street to the Trout Run Hotel (ahem, bar, always fun people watching/listening) and had some lukewarm coffee while I read stuff.

About an hour later, Bob showed up, told me what was wrong with my car, and asked me if I could find a ride home. The driver’s side ball joint and spring were shot, and I needed new rear brakes to pass inspection. He said he thought it would be better if I could avoid driving the car.

Then, when I went back to Creveling’s to meet my ride, he invited me into his garage and showed me, while my car was on the lift, what was wrong with it. He showed me the parts that were broken, explained how they were broken and how that would affect my car’s life and my driving experience and my tires.

He said, “You women need to know your cars so you can avoid getting taken advantage of. I’ve seen it so many times.”

I said “You’re right. Thank you. So, so much.”

The next day, he stayed at work till 7:30 to get my car done. He called me to let me know it was ready.

Wednesday morning, Fella drove me up the hill. He said, “Did he tell you how much?”

I said, “I didn’t think to ask. I know it will be fair.”

And it was. I was expecting close to a grand. My bill was $400.

I love my mechanic, his staff, and his life partner. If I ever do get to the city, I will want to take them with me. I will have anxiety about leaving a garage I can trust.

Anybody else have a bad or awesome mechanic story to share?

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A Good Chat, a Good Chap: Writing About Alive People

from Flickr user CraigeMorsels
from Flickr user CraigeMorsels

One of the many things that I laugh at myself about is that I’m 32. There’s really no call for me to be writing a memoir. I’ve got no business.

I don’t think it would matter what I was working on, I’d feel like I had no business writing it.

Another thing that gives me chuckles and massive, intestine-twisting anxiety in equal parts is that I’m writing a lot about alive people.

Some of these alive people are people with whom I’ve not been on the greatest terms for some time. A lot of them are members of my family.

And this is shitty, but I really am not worried too much about writing stuff about my parents. They might be upset with me for a while, but they won’t stop talking to me forever, because they love the hell out of their grandchild. Who knew that having a baby at 24, which is one of the many things I’m writing about, would protect me from memoir backlash in the future? Ha!

I’m working through an edition of Writing the Memoir: From Truth To Art, and the section on writing about people who are alive says (this is a paraphrase),

You have a responsibility to the people you’re writing about other than yourself, you don’t necessarily have to stop what you’re doing, but you have to understand that what you’re doing may have larger consequences for them, and is it worth it? The limits of responsibility and how to define them vary from writer to writer, from story to story. Some people do it this way, others do it another way, your answer will depend on your sense of ethics and your willingness to open yourself to legal trouble. More on that in the appendix.

The appendix says that memoirists have to worry about defamation and invasion of privacy. There are a bunch of things that a work has to be in order to be defaming, and one of the things is false, so I feel fairly safe from that one. It also says you’re probably okay if you change names and avoid specifically identifiable information, which I would do anyway, because I worry about getting sued, and when pressed, about potential harm to the people I know or have known, even though some of them deserve my ire.

I’m not sure I’m fond of the idea of literary revenge. It strikes me as unproductive and ultimately unsatisfactory. I am trying to be fair, even when it is hard.

Of course, I’ve thought a lot about this.

Good Chap

Over the past several weeks, you’ve read some stories involving others. Sometimes those stories have been intimate, like in the post about my sister and I showering together.

I sent my sister the copy I intended to use, and she said, “well, that’s not exactly how I remember it, but that’s the beauty of narrative, right?” She gave me her blessing.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the first time I ever gave a guy a blow job. It was a thing I really hadn’t thought about in probably years, and it just leapt off my fingers.

And that hasn’t been posted yet, but it will be.

And I felt like, since that guy is still alive, and since we have friends in common, and since I thought it would be shitty for him to get a phone call something like this:

“Hello.”

“OH MY GOD, DUDE, APRIL WROTE ABOUT YOU ON HER BLOG!”

[silence]

“I DIDN’T KNOW YOUR PENIS IS RED!”

it would be classy of me to spare him by getting his permission, or at least say, “This is what I’m doing.  I’d love to use your real name. What are your thoughts?”

Because that guy possesses Mad Literary Respec, he said, (paraphrasing again, to protect the innocent) You totally weren’t required to ask me, but I appreciate it that you did. I’m cool as long as you don’t use my real name.

Then I said, “Dangit. Your real name is perfect.”

Then he said, “How about Leo?”

Then I said, “Baller.”

But Penelope says that you should never be afraid to get permission or to negotiate.

And doing that, which is sometimes way out of my comfort zone, is one of the many ways in which I shall grow, a lot, by writing this thing, and already have, and some of the other gajillion reasons I really don’t care if it never sees the light of day beyond this blog (though I’m totally operating under the assumption that somebody will publish it. How’s that for self-aggrandizing paradox?).

So what I’m saying here is that the more I write, the more I find that there are so, so few hard-and-fast rules that I should just do it, go with my gut, and work out the rest of it later.

I offer the same to you: Just do it. Carpe Diem. Now or never. Feliz Navidad. Etc.

The Seriousness of Coloring

from Flickr user apdk

Child turned 7 and became a whole new person with a sophisticated set of social know-how, a dazzling sense of humor, and the attitude of a 13-year-old girl.

So, before getting in my face and saying, aggressively, “Mommy, I want to go with Lydia!” in this clenched-teeth voice that was legitimately almost frightening, we had this conversation:

“Mommy, I think I know who’s going to win the coloring contest.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“Guess.”

“You?”

“Nuh-uh,” shaking her head with earnestness, “but it’s not going to be Connor, either.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.”

“Then who?”

Her voice got low and conspiratorial, “MaKenzie.”

Then she snapped out if it and said, “Anyways, I just think she’s going to win.”

Friendships

Every other day it’s, “I don’t wanna be friends with Monique anymore.  She’s mean.”

and “I want to be friends with Monique, I forgive her.”

Or out of the blue, she’ll look at me with big, dewey eyes and say, “Mommy, I just really miss BombBomb and JuJuBee.” (man I wish we really had friends who named their kids BombBomb and JuJuBee).

I remember changing my mind about who my friends were, but not till middle school.

Sudden Tastes

Child wouldn’t be conned into having a “chapter book” read to her little by little for anything.  But suddenly she’s thrilled to receive Bunnicula a little at a time (and I’m thrilled to read it).

She asked me to buy her a coloring book this morning.  This is a child who has had dozens of coloring books purchased for her by every breathing person in her life, and has never a single time agreed to color with me.  Just now, she is coloring the second picture of the day, including a love note to grandma and pop pop.

Yesterday, she changed her list of favorite colors from (no joke, I just confirmed with her) pink purple red orange yellow blue black white, to pink purple black white. This new list is lightly revised from two days ago when it was “I’m thinking about changing my favorite colors to pink black white.”

All this to say that interacting with a seven-year-old is often like interacting with a bipolar cartoon character.

 

Open Letter to Women Who Do Not Want Children.

From Flickr user Xinem

Dear Woman,

There is nothing wrong with you. You are self-aware and strong and wise. You are making the right choice. You are the only one who should make that choice.

Sex is fun. It is all right to still want to have sex, even if you don’t want to have children. This does not make you a slut, harlot, brazen, whore, or any other. It makes you a mammal.

If, in the course of having sex and fun, you get pregnant, you have some options. You will know what to choose. You must listen to yourself, regardless of what others say.

Only you will have the right answer. Trust your gut, not your head. Do not trust the billboards that you’ve never noticed, the ones that say, “Pregnant? Need Help? Call Catholic Family Charities.” Those people do not have help. They have guilt-inducing dogma and rhetoric.

It is all right to get your tubes tied. If a doctor tells you he won’t, go to another doctor.

It is also all right to change your mind. If you change your mind post tubal, there are other ways to become a mother.

Maybe you know this, it has informed your choice: Children are devastatingly difficult. When you’re a mother, you reinvent yourself. You become Somebody’s Mom. You become the arbiter of another person’s physical, emotional, and mental health. It is the hardest thing, and not everybody should do it.

It’s all right to hate the people a little who shake their heads at you and tsk and say inane shit like, “You’ll change your mind. Being a mother is beautiful.”

It’s all right to not be friends with people who act like you’re some kind of retard because you don’t have kids and don’t want them. The ones who say, “Only a mother can understand.”

It’s all right to cling to your youth, your beautiful, unstretched body. It’s all right not to want to want to be pregnant. It’s all right not to want stretch marks and tits that sag and to be a pod. It’s all right to want tattoos on your torso more than you want babies. This does not make you vain and selfish. This means you have plans.

It is good to have plans. It is all right if your plans do not include children.

If you like to be alone, you’re not strange or a cat lady, a witch, or some kind of progressive weirdo. You’re a person who likes to be alone.

If you want to be married or coupled for the long term, it is all right not to want to have kids, just be sure to pick a partner who also does not want to have kids, and for similar reasons to yours.

Sisters, I am a mother, and I love my child. But I am a mother who is a woman who never wanted kids.

I sometimes say that I’m a little glad that I became a mother in the way I did. That I wouldn’t have made time for it.

But many, many more times, even though my kid is surpassingly cool and funny, and even though I love her more than I love breathing, even though motherhood agrees with me on the whole; I feel good about acknowledging that I’m really sad that I didn’t follow my gut and give my baby up for adoption.

She would have a better life.

I would’ve gotten over it.

Love,
A Mother Who Never Wanted Kids.

Rainy Mornings And The Working Poor

Child in her rain gear.

Child goes to a school that is full of poor kids.  Child is a poor kid.

I am proud and resourceful, so Child’s experience of being a poor kid is different from some of the poor kids she goes to school with.  We are also not always poor.  We are never rich, but we are sometimes lower middle class instead of poor.  It is the way with freelancing.

Child’s first grade teacher told me that she typically loses about half of her students to moving for reasons of financial hardship.

That totally blew my mind.  When I was little, we got maybe one new kid a year, and occasionally kids wouldn’t show up for the following year, but they NEVER left in the middle of the year.

Another thing that blew my mind?

Last year, Child was in a special reading program.  So every day, we did the hour’s worth of homework Child got from her reading help and from her regular class.  Her reading teacher thanked me repeatedly for helping her with her homework, for holding her accountable.

I thought, “but that’s what parents do.”

Rain

I take child to school every morning because we live too close for her to get bussed.

And every morning, we working poor people kiss our kids goodbye in our work outfits, some of us are in our pajamas.  Some of us are incredibly young, pushing strollers, or pregnant, or too skinny, or too round, or wear clothes that were obviously somebody richer’s castoffs.

A lot of the parents’ voices rattle from smoking too much. Have kids whose backpacks smell like stale cigarettes. A lot of the parents have stringy, unwashed hair.  A lot of the parents leave the dropping off to the grandparents.  A lot of kids come with somebody else’s parents.  But there’s a real feeling of community and teamwork in these moments.

They feel like home to me.  They feel like moments full of people coming together in a ritual.

Yesterday morning, it was raining.  I often think it’d be a fun view from the air, all the bobbing umbrellas, then the clusters of them at the entrance to the school while people keep themselves, their kids, other people’s kids dry.

When I was little, I barely had to go ten feet from my front door to another dry spot.  I was released within inches of my elementary school, under an awning.

The kids at Child’s school know about trekking for blocks, and they see the value of an umbrella, which is something I had no concept of until I was in my 20s.

And as I crossed High St. on the way to the Pajama Factory, I saw a dad on crutches, getting drenched, shuffling five kids across the street, and I thought, “maybe it’s anecdotal, but there’s a guy who recognizes the importance of getting his kids to school safely & on time.”  He stood, impervious to the rain, watching the kids, made sure they got onto school ground safely.

And as I thought more, I think it’s not anecdotal.  The poor parents I see interacting with their kids obviously love them.  They obviously care about the education.  The trouble is, it takes a lot more hours at $7 to make a living than it does at $30, $100.

And all this ridiculous rhetoric about how poor people are lazy, and Romney’s denial that he’s dismissive toward Americans who don’t pay taxes make me crazy with anger and frustration.  I wonder how many times Romney, not his hired people, helped his children with homework.

How is there any universe in which somebody parenting multiple children and working full time for minimum wage–regardless of the choices, circumstances, etc that led them to that life–could be considered to be lazy?  Working part time for minimum wage and parenting a single child is a greater task than anyone sane would take on outside of parental love.

The fact is that the working poor do not have the time or energy to deal with their kids’ homework.  When the greater pressure is making sure the kids are dressed and fed, who gives a shit about a math worksheet?

It’s not right that our world is like this.  It’s not right that anybody would complain that people who live in poverty don’t have to pay taxes.  It’s not right that there are individual humans who receive enough money annually to pay for private educations for every single one of the underserved kids in my county.  Or that those same humans are pointing their bloated, greedy fingers at the poor–of whom they possess no realistic conception–and saying, “You’re the problem.  You are.  You’re the reason America’s broken.”  How can a group with no voice break America?

But people–even the working poor–listen.  Why?

I would love to understand.  Please help me.  Do you understand how it happens that the filthy stinking rich people who hang out in their luxe mansions, summer homes, golf courses, race tracks, and order more food get to blame and criticize people who have so little they can’t even see to their kids’ educations properly? And why anybody with a modicum of sense would agree?

People do Zany Shit on the Internet & Notes from the Cosmos

Child started playing this game, Tapfish, on my first generation Galaxy Tab.

I’m kind of into it, too.  I’m babysitting our two tanks while she visits Grandma this week.

This game is mildly frustrating because the cool stuff costs real money (in the form of fish bucks), but I’m in the middle of an “event” right now where you breed these two special clown fish that the game puts in your tank for free over and over again and you get all these other special clown fish.

There are challenges like raising sea turtles which take two weeks to grow.

And selling multiples of adult fish.

And breeding specific kinds of fish that become available as you ascend the levels.

I’m not really sure what constitutes ascension, it just says once in a while, “congratulations you’re on level X! Have some free coins!  Also a fish buck!”

One of the features is that you can visit other people’s tanks.  If you help them by cleaning or feeding their fish (or reviving their dead fish), you earn coins and experience points.

Sometimes visiting someone else’s tank feels a little like snooping in their drawer of underpants.

We visited this tank last week.

Dirty Screen, yeah, but you get the picture.

And all I can think about is some webcam-furry-antisocial-internet-people romance, where Sally Interwebs made this special tank for Henry Interwebs, and paid real money to get the bride and groom divers, and how sweet Lord, the whole thing strikes me as, well, creepy.  Yes.  Creepy.

And I am an internet dater.

But seriously.  Look.

Sally & Henry Interwebs

I picture greasy-haired embrace, awkward, saliva-rich kisses.  I picture acne scars and sweatsuits.  Think People of Walmart.

And that makes me a horrible, horrible snob.  I know it.  Especially since I have done somewhat extensive internet dating.  Especially since I spend more hours than I care to admit staring at screens.  Especially since I am really digging Tapfish!  But my oh my.

Also last week, on the same day, this little fella flew into our house, landed on my bed.

 

The last time I saw a Katydid that close was when I was a child.

Child said, “What is it, mommy?!”

“A Katydid, Child.”

“Katydid?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a bug that looks like a leaf so it is safe from being eaten.”

“Oh. What should we do with it?”

“We’re going to capture it and put it outside.”

We did.  Katydid lives to die another day.

Child’s totally a city kid.  We visited friends who live in the hills who practice burning of trash, and Child asked, “Why are you making fire?”

And I’m left wondering what the Universe wants me to know about my life, sending me the sensation of being a judgmental ass the same day she sends me and Child the gift of nature and the privilege to free it.

Anybody else with incongruous missives from The Universe (or God or gods or the cosmos or whomever you observe)?

Oh God, the Feelings! And Candy Land.

New Candy Land, From Flickr User NathanReed

It has been an intense month for Child and I.  I am a generally sensitive person with loads of feelings.

But I have been in the midst of this confronting-feelings tsunami for about a month.

There are two things I want to tell you about.

1.  My sister’s wedding.  I already told you about it, sort of.  I am happy for her.  But I am also worried.  I am worried because she does not know how young she is the way I’ll say I didn’t know how young I was ten years from now.  This is a thing.  It is a hard thing.  I don’t really care about marriage.  I think it can be a reasonable pragmatic choice for some people, whether they are in love or not.  And my sister’s wedding RULED.  Here are some pictures.  But oh gosh, she actually did it.  She actually got married.  And oh man, she moved to Texas.  And holy birds, this is just kind of age-making.  I mean, I helped to take care of her when she was a baby.  I changed her diapers.  If it’s this intense when my baby sister gets hitched up, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when Child does it.  Sheesh.

I am a crier. I cry when I am happy and sad and frustrated and occasionally if I am hungry.  I cry at weddings and funerals.  Whether I know or love the people or not.  I am still, a week later, occasionally crying about my sister’s wedding.  Especially when I see pictures or think real hard about how my family is different now: Richer, and more interesting, and with potential for greater closeness (but also for greater pain), for having made this milestone, for welcoming a new person.

And…

2.  Child met her paternal grandparents for the first time.  If you’ll recall, she hasn’t met her father.  We spent a lovely late morning with them, had some lunch, played at the mall, chatted.  It was cool and nice.  But it felt kind of similar in terms of adding new people.  In terms of overwhelming love and complicated, conflicting feelings.

They were sweet and loving toward both of us.  They did not have to be.  I wasn’t expecting them to be.  I wasn’t expecting anything.

But this was the third time we’d scheduled a visit.  So I was kind of scared they wouldn’t show up. I was half worried it’d be some kind of ambush.  I remain concerned for Child’s emotional health.  I have had the swell luxury of not really having to examine my feelings about Child’s bio father.  Maybe not about him, exactly, but about this situation as it relates to him.  I haven’t believed I’d have to.  I haven’t believed we’d have to figure out how to give Child that part of her family without giving her him.

I can’t help but think that this intense emotional overwhelm is at least partially responsible for the way I had the first migraine headache in like 15 years, and the way Child spent last night puking and moaning.

So this morning, during her little uptick of energy before she ate anything, she asked to play Candy Land, and so I took a break from playing catch-up and played with her.

I was struck by how absurd that game is.  It’s unfair and ugly (like life), but it’s all swaddled in pink and the excitement and indulgence of CANDY!, and it requires no skill.

The image above is the new version.  I played a very squared-edges, bare version compared to what exists now.  The board is vertically oriented, and just gauche, and the gingerbread man pawns are these wavy, pretty critters, totally unlike the basic, barely-recognizable cutouts of my youth.

Candy Land struck me as a metaphor for lives: It doesn’t matter how pretty you try to make it, or how much candy you eat, it still sucks, will often be boring, and it is more likely than not that you’ll lose, even–or especially–if you do everything right.

So.  Enjoy the cynicism for a Monday afternoon.  Any of you have moments of clarity over kids’ media?

Thanks for being here.