The Time I Drove a Motorcycle Through a House

teenage irresponsibility motorcycles
My sister, my aunt Val, and me on Val’s motorcycle. We start ’em young.

When I was eighteen years old, I drove a motorcycle through the wall of our house. I wasn’t actually riding the motorcycle, and it wasn’t even running. How might one drive a parked motorcycle through a wall?

I was home from college for the summer, and I went out to the garage to get in my car and drive to my summer job at the bookstore. It was a hand-me-down, 1987 Nissan Stanza, standard transmission. I opened the car door, plopped my butt in the seat with my legs still hanging out the open door, and turned the key to start the car. It roared to life and lurched forward as I panicked, scrambling to get my feet in the car and on the brake to halt the car’s forward progress. Which I did. But not before the car pushed my dad’s motorcycle, parked in front of it, through the wall and into the brand-spanking new den my dad had just finished building.

If you know anything about cars and stick shifts, you probably think I’m making this up. You are thinking, But standard transmissions don’t start unless you have your foot on the clutch.

Yes, but not this one. That car began having trouble starting back when it was still my dad’s. Eighty-five percent of the time when my dad fixes something, it involves removing safety features. Like the one that prevents a car from starting unless your foot is on the clutch. I always left the car in neutral with the parking brake on, which allowed me to develop the (bad) habit of starting it without being all the way inside it yet. My dad, however, liked to leave it in gear with the parking brake off, and I’d forgotten he’d moved it for me the night before.

So there I am. I have to be at work in fifteen minutes, and I am staring in horror at the motorcycle handlebars poking through that brand new wall. In the span of five seconds, I have scratched the front of my car, damaged my dad’s motorcycle and demolished a recently-completed construction project. My sister has traveled halfway downstairs (not all the way; she’s 15 and only one notch above bored by the whole sitch) and is gawking from the stairwell like, What’d you do?!

Did I call my dad at work? No. I called my mom. I pleaded with her to call him, so I wouldn’t have to face the music. She flat-out refused, saying something to the effect of, “No way. You made your bed, now you lie in it.”

So I took a deep breath and called my dad but not before I came up with a strategy:

Dad: This is Pat.

Me: Dad, it’s April. I just pushed your motorcycle through the wall with my car, but it’s all your fault because YOU LEFT MY CAR IN GEAR, AND I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE IT IF IT WEREN’T FOR YOU!

‘Like how I didn’t give him a chance to respond? Like how I immediately went on the offensive and wholly denied any personal responsibility. Guess what? It worked. Just not how I intended.

My dad laughed his ass off at me through the phone. At first, I was scared he had lost it entirely, but then I realized he actually thought it was funny. My blaming it on him was so ridiculous, he wasn’t even mad. (Plus, by the time I was 18, he was starting to mellow a bit.)

He had me help him fix the wall, which was a logical consequence and was actually kind of fun — a bonding experience. It all turned out okay, and I never again started that car or any other manual transmission without both the clutch and the brake covered. I also learned…

  • When you fuck up really badly, if you can make your confession ridiculous to the point of hilarity, maybe they’ll go easy on you.
  • It is good to laugh at yourself.
  • It’s bad to park things in front of other things.
  • Under no circumstances should you remove safety mechanisms from devices used by people under the age of thirty.

Hammer Therapy

Hammer, nails on wooden boards outside on construction site
Copyright : Jozef Polc

When I was thirteen, my dad threw a hammer at me.

Now before you go getting all shocked and jumping to conclusions, I should point out, he prefaced the throw with, “Here, catch,” as he gently lobbed it about six feet to my outstretched hand. Also, we were on a roof, and I suck at catching things.

Okay, full story: My dad, mom, sister, and I were up on our roof hammering shingles into the addition to the house my dad had just completed. We have always been a full-on, do-it-yourself family, occasionally to the point of what some would call stupidity. When Dad said, “Here, catch,” and I realized he was going to throw a hammer I was expected to successfully receive, I was terrified I’d miss it and Dad would be mad. I did miss it, and it clattered to the roof, knocking some of the surfacing from the brand-new composition shingles. He was mad. It was the classic self-fulfilling prophecy.

By the way, do you know what composition shingles are? ‘Cause I do. That’s how I was raised — knowing a lot of random construction details most non-construction people neither know nor care about. And yes, it’s a point of pride. Go ahead, ask me how dual vanity sinks are plumbed. I’ll draw you a diagram. If you want to know how a post-tension slab foundation works, I can give you details on that, too. Mind you, I couldn’t actually build one, but I could definitely write a manual.

But I digress. So I missed the hammer, and Dad got irritated at me. He said something to the effect of, “Goddamnit, April! Why didn’t you catch that?”

Mom then came to my rescue with, “Because she knew you’d yell at her if she didn’t!”

I didn’t say anything, but in my head, I was like, Yeah. Yeah, that’s why! It was a revelation; nerves had gotten the better of me, and I didn’t even realize that was a thing that happened until she said it.

I tell this story, because how can you not tell a story that starts with, “One time, my dad threw a hammer at me…” and make people wonder? And because it’s a snapshot memory that stands out in technicolor clarity in my mind. It was when I realized that pressuring people to perform can have the exact opposite of the desired effect, and it gave me an inkling of insight into my own psychological hangups.

The moral of this story is, you’ve got to verbalize your children’s emotions for them from time to time to help them label those emotions. Or maybe it’s that you shouldn’t expect your kids to be perfect all the time. No, no, I’ve got it. It’s…

If you really want a kid to learn something, put them on a roof and throw hammers at them. Right?

 

 

This is Not What I Expected

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Photo Credit: Catherine George

Yesterday, I was wading through old photos on my computer looking for one I could use for an article when I happened upon some pictures of myself, roughly eight years ago. I’m feeding baby Gage with a bottle and looking over at toddler Jack, smiling. I totally look like I have my shit together in those photos. I totally did not.

I often wonder, when I see parents at the grocery store toting two young children along, parents who look like they also have their shit together, are they really that chill? Or is it like that photo of me — only calm on the outside? Is everyone kind of a wreck when they have little kids? I wonder this because I have…let’s say a history behind my quest to have children. That history gave me an unusual level of anxiety once I had them.

I always wanted kids. I have introspected on that desire a lot, and I’m pretty sure it was a biological/emotional urge that originated with me and not societal norms. So in college, I mapped it out in my head. This may seem weird, but I know of at least one other person who did this, so it’s a thing. I wanted to be done having kids by the time I was 30. To space them out by at least two years, I needed to be pregnant with the first one by the time I was 26. I wanted to be married for at least two years before having them, so that meant a wedding by the time I was 24. I wanted to date at least two years before getting married, so that meant meeting Mr. Right by the time I was 22. And, since I figured this out when I was 21, I panicked.

This absurd logic is what prompted me to get married, just slightly off my timeline, at 25. This doesn’t mean I was a heartless asshole who didn’t marry for love. I was deeply in love with my first husband. We were great friends, we were okay dating partners, we were shitty at marriage together. (Not that anyone knew it, not even us. We were delusional.)

I was the catalyst for all of this. I don’t think he was quite ready to get married, and I think he was even less ready when I suggested going off birth control when I was 27, but he went along with it because he loved me and he did want kids at some point.

I got pregnant. We celebrated. We told everyone. I gave my grandmother a birthday card from her great-grandchild, and it brought tears to her eyes. Then, I miscarried. It was awful, and we had to tell everyone what happened, which was a lot shittier than telling them I was pregnant. I was devastated. Then, I had three more miscarriages, and I was a wreck. I was profoundly depressed and panicked that I might not ever carry a baby to term. My timeline was all fucked up now. He said, “I’m afraid you’ll never get over this.” I said, point blank, “I won’t.”

He went back to school to change careers, and we decided to take a break from trying to conceive. That’s when I realized how unhappy I was. I’d been distracted by the baby thing, and taking a step back, I noticed how dysfunctional our marriage was. I knew it, but I didn’t do anything about it. I let it fester, the childish part of me pushing it down and ignoring it, despite the more adult part of my brain knowing that wasn’t going to work long term. We got divorced.

At that point, I was 30, and I finally stopped clinging to my stupid timeline, stopped adjusting it and projecting forward with the ridiculous notion I had control over the matter. I decided, in my dogged way, I would have children. If I had to beg, borrow, steal, or adopt them, if I had to raise them by myself in the woods amongst the wolves, it was going to happen sooner or later. So when Jason and I got married, I had no ulterior baby motive.

I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Nine months later, we had Jack. Two years later, I had another miscarriage. I got pregnant with Gage when I was 34, and gave birth to him when I was 35. During my last pregnancy, I had to talk myself out of a panic attack repeatedly; my uterus hadn’t magically expired on my 35th birthday. Then, there was a measure of relief. Procreation, which had dominated my thoughts for over a decade, seven pregnancies later, was complete. I could stop worrying about baby-making sex and relax. But I didn’t. Because after all that time, I couldn’t believe it was real. I couldn’t fathom that “they” (I have no idea who “they” are) were going to let me keep my children.

When they were infants, I worried about SIDS, I worried about whooping cough and the flu, I worried about BPA in baby bottles and pesticides on lawns. If it existed as even a remote threat to my babies, I worried about it. Something in my brain could not wrap itself around the idea that they weren’t going to be yanked away from me. The saga I’d gone through to have children made their existence feel fragile to me.

Thankfully, I grew out of that. I’m pretty free-rangy as a parent these days, and it would be hard to know I was ever so anxious about their safety. Those close to me back then knew — my parents, Jason’s parents, and certainly Jason. But not the people in the park or the people in the grocery store. They saw what I see in that old photo — a calm, smiling, competent parent. More and more these days, I am that mom, but I still have my moments.

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Photo Credit: Catherine George

Is it a Boy or a Girl?

That’s the first question people ask about a newborn baby. It’s what determines nursery themes and the attendant comments of well-wishers.

She’s got her mama’s good looks; you better be careful! (Insert jocular ribbing.)

Get a football in that kid’s hands. He’s a big one!

These are obvious gender-stereotypical comments, especially when made in reference to a newborn. But what about the more insidious stuff? What about all those memes about women shopping to relieve stress and men acting like just another child for a woman to take care of? It’s like an extension of the “boy or girl” question. We act like every behavior hinges on gender.

The memes are funny. I know I’ve laughed at them, but as they’ve gotten more pervasive, I’ve started to get an ominous feeling. It’s like we’re extracting ourselves from our old stereotypical gender roles and building ourselves new ones.

Instead of the “yes dear” housewife, we have the eternally exhausted shrew who does all the household work, complains about it and continues to enable her family by doing everything for them. Instead of “Father Knows Best,” we have the idiot husband who is oblivious to everything that goes on around him and, despite living an adult life, is helpless to fix his kids’ hair. It’s not a flattering picture for anyone.

These dichotomies do exist. It’s why all the memes are so funny to us in the first place. But as time goes on and the memes become more pervasive, we as a society start to assume everyone is just like that and has no nuance or depth to them. And then, we start to fit ourselves into those roles, or we feel weird that we’re not like everyone else.

We humans seem to be good at extremes. A person can be a boy or a girl. Men can have all the power and women can have none, or women can be smart and men can be stupid. Middle ground, people. It exists in many of my day-to-day interactions with friends and neighbors but not so much in advertising or on the internet. It’s like we can be nice to each other, but we can’t acknowledge it.

Ultimately, I’d like for the world to get to a place where “boy or girl” isn’t foremost in our minds, whether we’re talking kids or adults. Yes, gender differences exist, but they are not as concrete as we treat them. Gender is more of a continuum than a set of diametrical opposites, and we are all so much more than the set of behaviors and traits society assigns us according to gender.

What if kids’ clothing stores didn’t have “boys” and “girls”? What if they had a pants section, a dress section, a shirt section, so kids could choose what they like without feeling constrained by their biological gender? Adults clothes are trickier because our shapes vary more, but I could work with something like a “shirts for people with boobs” section. This isn’t just semantics; There are people with boobs who don’t identify as female.

I know it may take us several generations to get there, but I hope we evolve into a society that asks what a person is like, what a person can do, and gender becomes more of a sidenote. I’m pulling for it — true person-first thinking. Then, we could all stop bickering about who is better and who should wear pink and get to work on the world’s bigger problems.

When I Grow Up…

Start up
photo credit: Stock Photo, copyright, yarruta 

When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.

As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.  Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.

I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.

I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.

I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:

What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?

I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.

 

 

Happy Holidaze

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Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash

I am officially hibernating. Except I’m pretty sure animals who hibernate don’t eat cookies and drink chardonnay. But in every other sense of the word…

  • very little activity? check
  • lots of naps and sleeping? check
  • snuggled up in the den? check

On Christmas day, I sat around with my parents, drank wine, talked, and watched old movies. Then we went to visit my in-laws, where we sat around, drank wine, and watched sports. Now I’m back at home, and I am sitting around, waiting for Jason to get home with the wine and whiling away the hours on my computer while the kids rot their brains with all-day video games. The TV is on, but I’m not watching it. I just can’t figure out how to turn it off with the remote not working.

I waffle between feeling like this is a nice little break and feeling guilty for acting like a slug. I also feel guilty for letting my kids rot their brains and eat whatever the hell they want. ‘Cuz that’s what parenthood is all about — worrying and feeling guilty.

I’m not sure this really qualifies as self-care. I have acid reflux from all the crappy crap I’ve been ingesting, and I’m pretty sure today’s irritability has something to do with very little physical activity. BUT…

Maybe the part of my brain that makes “good” decisions — the part that says “go for a run” and “clean up the laundry” and “eat some vegetables” — needs a break every so often. Maybe my superego is tired and needs to let my id run the show for just a little while. Id says things like “have another piece of pie” and “you are rockin’ it in the Words with Friends solo games!”

It’s possible I’m rationalizing my behavior; it’s possible I’m right. It’s also possible, though, that I’ve both enjoyed spending this extra time with my kids, and they are driving me a little nuts. I haven’t been alone in over a week. Maybe my superego is busy keeping me from shouting at people. Maybe the wine and the cookies and the sluggishness is how I cope with that. Or maybe it’s just the holidays.

When Your Kid Fails…

Little girl in climbing gear stretching out handYou know how sometimes you feel like you are the Best Parent in the World? Yeah, today isn’t one of those days for me.

My oldest decided to try out for the select basketball team in our area. He’s always loved basketball, and he’s pretty good at it. But in the midst of soccer season, he neglected to even pick up a basketball prior to the tryout. I still thought he’d do okay, though.

The day of the tryout, he came to me practically in tears. He said he didn’t want to go; he wasn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. This turned into a long discussion, and we eventually ferreted out that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to perform. On the one hand, it’s good he has Jason and me as parents — Jason understands the psychology of sports, and I (sort of) understand the complexity of Jack’s anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I upset him more by discussing all those emotions at one time, and Jason is sometimes at a real loss as to why Jack feels so intensely.

We talked him into going the tryout. And he didn’t do great. The kid I saw on the court was not the one I watched all last season in recreational league. This new kid was reserved, nervous and not giving his best effort. Normally, Jack is pretty competitive. He dives for loose balls and blocks bigger opponents without a second thought.

He didn’t make the team. Worse yet, most of his friends did. Despite his feeling ambivalent about playing for the season, he was crushed. He didn’t make excuses; he realized this was less about his talent and more about attitude and work ethic. My heart hurt for him.

I did my best to comfort him and reminded him to learn from this experience. There will be more tryouts to come. I told him failure is a part of life, and it’s how we grow. In my head, though….

I was berating myself for not signing him up for that basketball clinic earlier in the year. I was angry at myself for not making him eat before the tryout, even though he insisted he didn’t want to. I felt like I failed right along with him. He’s 10, right? I’m supposed to know these things.

When my cooler parenting head prevails, I know this experience was good for him — that it will only make him stronger and smarter in the future. It’s just that as his mom, I have the intense urge to shield him from pain. I finally understand why it made my mom so nervous whenever my sister or I tried out for anything.

We will move on. Odds are, when Jack gets home from school today, he will already be mostly over it. My oldest kiddo is sensitive and emotionally complex like me. He’s also tough, and I like to think he gets that at least partially from me as well.

Maybe it’s good I didn’t make him practice before or make him eat or whatever else I think I could have done to change the outcome. Maybe this lesson, this version of falling down, will teach him how to get back up again. Hey, maybe I learned something too.