Thursday, August 25, 2011

Life Skills: Being a Gift Horse

For many years, I drove a beat-up old Subaru Impreza - it's 12 years old now, and doesn't look like much, because it has been loved and driven hard for most of its 12 years. It's got a lot of life left in it, though, and some nice features, like all-wheel drive and an iPod jack. Great gas mileage. It is nicknamed The Yeti, for reasons even I don't recall.

My stepson has never thought much of this car. I have been aware for several years that I would probably be ready to get a new car right around the time he would get his first driver's license, and thus, it might be handed down to him. From time to time, I would mention this to The Boy.

He replied to these comments by letting me know that, basically, my Subaru sucks, and his stepfather's car - a beat-up Saturn even older than The Yeti - is WAY COOLER. And that's the car he's getting. He wouldn't want to be driving around in an uncool car like The Yeti.

I admit, it stung, but since it was all theoretical, I let it go, mostly.

This past spring, I decided that it was time for me to finally get a slightly more upscale vehicle, and after a little test-driving of assorted luxury gas-guzzlers*, I settled on an Acura MDX, for the simple reason that it was the only car that I found that has heated second-row seats. Lots of cars are nice and have satellite radio and are fun to drive, but very few bother to take the chill off of all the passengers. Happy passengers make for a happy drive.

We made the decision, and then my husband called The Boy - now taking driving lessons and approaching his license - and asked him what his car arrangements were, since we had to decide whether to trade in The Yeti.

The Boy replied that he was getting his stepfather's car. My husband, though, mentioned this to the Ex-Wife when she came to pick their kids up - and she had a slightly different take on the situation. In the first place, they might want to see if The Boy could even drive the car, what with it being a manual shift and all. In the second place, The Boy was going to have to share said car - because a new vehicle for the Stepfather "isn't in the cards right now."

They agreed to take The Boy out to test-drive Stepfather's car, and discuss it with him a bit, so he could do some thinking based on the facts. And sure enough, later that week, my husband got a call from The Boy, which was along the lines of,

"I've been doing a lot of research, and it turns out that a Subaru is a really good car for a beginning driver such as myself. I'll take it."

It turns out that a manual shift car whose upholstery is splitting inside is a really bad choice for a beginning driver - who spent 20 minutes stalling it in the school parking lot and realized that might be even less cool than driving a beat-up old Subaru.

We bought my new car and put the Subaru in the driveway while The Boy - who had certainly learned a useful life lesson about getting all the facts before you make a decision - worked on getting his driver's license.

Great story, right?

I'm not done yet.

The Boy got his license last week, and Friday night we went out for a family dinner, over which we congratulated him and talked a little about the logistics of transferring The Yeti over to him - insurance and maintenance and all that fun stuff. I asked him if he's excited about getting his own wheels and he replied:

"Oh yeah. I mean, it'll do for now. I'm still going to learn to drive a manual shift, I mean I really should anyway, it's good to know how to do and eventually I want to be able to drive Stepdad's car."

My husband sees the oncoming train and attempts to divert the wreck, but The Boy continues:

"I mean, the Subaru will be okay for a while, but it's not like I could ever, you know, take a date out in it or something. I need to be able to drive Stepdad's car for things like that. It's way cooler."

I tried to imagine what, exactly, he would say to a date seated on the torn upholstery of that car:

"OK, well, I'm here to take you to the prom. Of course, I'd rather be going with that little red-haired girl, so I didn't buy you dinner or a corsage or anything. I'll probably spend my evening keeping an eye out for her."

Or to his future boss, if he gets a job to pay for gas:

"Thanks for the job offer. I guess I'll take this job - I don't really want it and I probably won't stay very long because I'm still looking for a better job with a boss I can respect - but I'll show up every day, especially payday."

We got home, and I looked at the Yeti, sitting forlornly in the driveway. We've been through a lot together  - driving cross-country with two dogs in the back. (Nebraska in January, fun!) I drove my ex-husband and those same dogs to the airport, for the last time, while my sweet, soon-to-be-fatherless baby girl slept in the back seat. That baby girl grew into a toddler and said  Shit! with me every time I hit my head on that car's back door frame while buckling her into her carseat**. That toddler grew into a kindergartner who sang me songs from the back seat of that car. Once I drove my cat Linus to a Burger King drive-thru window in that car - because he seemed depressed and really, really liked Burger King french fries.

I know it's just a car, but here's the thing - it's my car.

And here's another thing - I didn't really even want thanks or a great show of gratitude. Nobody gives anything to a 16-year-old boy expecting either of those things. I just wanted that car - my car - to go to a good home. I wanted it to be appreciated and maintained.

Oh, and one more thing - it's kind of funny really - I got an email that same day from the Humane Society, which I am a great supporter of, letting me know that I can donate a used vehicle, no matter how scruffy, to them, and they will use the money to help some similarly scruffy animals, and send me their thanks and a receipt so I can deduct the value of the car on my tax return.

I discussed this with my father, inquiring, "What would Jesus do?" I meant to be a bit ironic, but he replied without hesitation: "You have followed the law faithfully since you were a child, now give up your wealth to the poor, take up your cross and follow me."

I asked, "You mean the poor animals or the poor kid?"

He replied, "The kid is not poor by any definition of the word."

The Boy mumbled a half-hearted apology to me as he left at the end of the weekend, and I overheard my husband talk briefly to the Ex-Wife, suggesting that maybe a well-worded email might help the situation. That was Sunday.

I'm still waiting.

* Sorry. 
**She was seriously cute in spite of her profanity.


  1. Donate a slap upside the head to that kid.
    Those are my only words of wisdom.

  2. Sounds like somebody has an ego with its own zip code. I think he needs a chance to explore it on foot! Another vote for the Humane Society!

  3. I'd probably print out your article, hand it to the kid, and tell him he has 24 hours to discuss this issue with you before you make a final decision on YOUR car. But what are YOU going to do?

  4. Wow. I think I'm with Col on this!

  5. Sixteen year olds... Ugh.

    I think that it's time the boy learn to earn his keep, especially when he doesn't appreciate a gift. It'll be good for him in the long run to value things based on hard work.

    I think you're a saint for being so patient about this the way you are. I'm also voting for the Humane Society ;)

  6. The Impreza is a good car - that is why I selected it. It is good to hear that after 12 years, it is still functioning without problems.


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