It’s no secret that my Friday Tennis Game sometimes takes on the qualities of a sacred confessional. Last Friday did not disappoint. I ran quickly through the details of The Teenager’s first vehicular mishap, explaining how he backed out of a driveway into a car that was parked opposite that driveway, a maneuver that I myself have managed to execute on three separate occasions in the 11 years we’ve lived in suburbia. I told them how the car he hit belonged to his friend and how the driver’s door needs to be replaced, how the friend took it for two estimates, and how each estimate came in at $4,000. I had given the friend the name of a particular auto body shop that I thought might be more reasonable, but the boy neglected to take it there.
“So, I took it myself,” I told them, with a self-satisfied smile. It was obvious from my demeanor that the estimate I acquired was much, much lower.
“Did you cry?” asked Shelley.
I was startled by this, because that was going to be my big confession. Not that I did cry, but that I announced to the owner as soon as I met him, that I might cry.
“I hope you cried,” said Eileen. She told me that she uses a certain brand of gum as an aid for just such interactions. “If you put it in your mouth and just let it sit there – don’t chew – it’s so strong it will make your eyes tear.” She keeps some in her purse all the time.
When I was 27, I worked with a guy who accused me one day of using my feminine wiles to get what I wanted in the workplace. He wasn’t even talking about promotions – just getting my projects moved up to the top of the roster so I could meet my clients’ deadlines. I remember being so affronted when he said this to me that we had a big falling out and didn’t speak to each other for days. I also remember being mortified that my tactics were so transparent.
Now, I’m barely even sheepish.
It’s no secret that a woman reaches a point in her life where she doesn’t have many feminine wiles left. I’m thinking I may have two or three at most; I may as well use them.
As I’ve matured, I’ve found the Threat of Crying to be more effective than Actual Crying. You can still come across as pathetic, but you don’t get all pink and puffy. For me, it allows oxygen a continued clear passage through my nasal cavity. Also, there’s no awkward moment when someone has to decide whether it’s appropriate to put their arm around you.
The auto body shop owner was a man, but I’ve used my few remaining wiles with women as well. “Are you really nice?” I asked the woman at the insurance company when I called to find out that The Teenager’s insurance rates would increase almost 100% if we filed a claim for the damage. “Because I might cry during this call and I need to be talking to someone really nice.”
“I can be,” she said.
“Would you?” I pressed.
These conversations didn’t need any gum or onion-chopping or any pinching myself hard on the underside of my arm. Because I really am on the verge of tears over this incident, even though I got a much lower estimate from my auto body shop and even though no one got hurt and no one is even angry about what happened. But from the moment I got The Call from The Teenager, a truth solidified for me, one that I had been entertaining as hypothetical, but been able to push safely away, which is that my baby boy has gained a level of independence and taken on an amount of responsibility that I have no control over. And things are going to get broken, despite how much I try to will them otherwise.
There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “The teacup is already broken.” I usually take that to mean, don’t get too attached to the way things are – they’re going to change; impermanence is the nature of the world. This has been a notion I’ve found solace in over and over when I find myself too worried about things I can’t control.
But it’s a concept that’s harder to embrace when your child is getting behind the wheel of a car every day.
For now, a better maxim might be, “Don’t send a teenager to an auto body shop to do the work of a distraught and zealously frugal middle-aged woman,” which may not be as elegant a metaphor, but is a notion I think every one of us can get behind.