The Speed of Parenting

 

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Babies don’t arrive with a user manual. Everything you do as a parent requires on-the-job training. Those blessed with wonderful role models to follow will find themselves speaking words they didn’t like hearing when they were children. Those who didn’t have great role models live in fear of becoming their parents. As a parent on the mature end of the spectrum, I realize Each significant stage in her life accelerated her more.

Events I felt unprepared for kept me humble and alert.

As soon as she could crawl, she headed off to stick a wet finger in an electrical socket. As soon as she could walk, she took off and dared us to catch her. Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could keep pace with her.

When my 1-year-old daughter Jessica reached that greet-the-world stage, she enjoyed a trip to the grocery where she could shout “HI” to everyone we passed. Through the aisles, we traveled while kind strangers returned her greeting. I could tell from their reactions that these mothers and grandmothers had been through this before. Jessica was my only child, so it was new territory for me. I gave her a bottle, and she drank for a while. In the aisle with the paper goods, I stopped to find paper towels.

Jessica sat up in the cart and shouted “Hi” to the back of a gray-haired man.

The man did not respond. Jessica repeated it louder. As I tossed the paper towels into the cart, the man turned around.

He had a high collar with a microphone device hanging around his neck. He raised the device to his throat near his tracheotomy tube, then a deep vibrating robotic voice said, “Hello, little girl.”

Jessica’s eyes widened, and she held out her bottle.

“Any little girl who would give her bottle to a stranger can’t be all bad,” he rasped in his mechanical voice.

She stared and blinked.

The dear gentleman smiled and said, “Bye-bye.”

He had walked to the far end of the aisle when Jessica rose in the cart, grabbed her throat and growled, “BYE-BYE.”

The man turned, laughing silently then disappeared around the end of the aisle.

In another incident, my daughter, then six, pointed to the tattooed forearm of the giant man in front of us in line at McDonald’s, addressing him in her usual loud voice.

“Does your mom know you draw on your arm?”

His leather clothing squeaked as he turned and looked down.

I held my breath.

He answered in a gravelly voice, “Yeah. And she was really mad.”

Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could.

Then in-line skating. She learned how to ski on water and snow, faster and faster leaving me behind.

Then there was the hockey game. My husband was supposed to go. Our daughter, at age nine, was excited about going to a grown-up match with him. An hour before the game, he called to tell me he’d been summoned to the emergency room to treat a dear friend of ours. I was the stand-in, the second choice, but she agreed to go. Having never been to a hockey game before, we were enjoying the game with confused interest as the padded men skated from one side of the rink to the other. They often slammed one another against the high Plexi-glass walls in their fight for the puck. It was a lively crowd.

The couple behind us appeared to be season ticket holders who enjoyed their beer. They wore the team colors from head to toe. They shouted advice to the players. Then my daughter started asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I suggested she watch and listen.

Later, she elbowed me. “Hey, mom. I know what they call that guy at the net.”

“Oh?”

“He’s the pucker,” she shouted.

Beer sprayed on my back and neck. “Um, I don’t think so.”

“He is too. That man at the end of our row called him that.”

So long ago she was my little girl. Then life sped in fast-forward mode until she was driving my 4Runner on suddenly narrow streets. She skidded up to her first stop sign.

“Whoops.”

“Let’s try it slower next time.”

Punctuated with eye-rolling, she said, “Yeah, okay.”

At 15, my daughter was driving for the first time with her learner’s permit. No longer on the vacant roads of new housing developments, we were on the real streets with real traffic. I was calm. We had wonderful auto insurance. Memories raced by, leaving me in awe of the changes in my little girl. We were on the way to pick up her friend to spend the night. She searched for a different radio station while she strayed over the yellow line. We were alone on the road, but I needed to alert her.

“Look up at the road.”

She did and swerved back into the right lane. “Whoops.”

“If another car had been coming, you would have known it by the loud crunching sound of metal on metal.”

A dramatic sigh blew from her clenched teeth. “You’re making me nervous.”

“You’re scaring me. Is this your best driving?”

“Nooooooowa.”

“Show me your best.”

“Can’t I listen to the radio?”

“Nooooooowa,” I mocked.

She snorted.

New speeds. New dangers. I was imagining her accelerating out of my sight when we reached her friend’s house. My baby was in high school, and too soon, she’d go off to college.

She turned off the car and handed me the keys.

“Do you want to drive home and show your friend how well you’re doing?”

“Can I?”

“Sure. Just keep doing your best.”

“Thanks, mom.” She kissed me on the cheek and hopped out of the car. It was the first spontaneous act of kindness from her in weeks. I nearly cried.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart; that’s for sure. I could only hope my car and my heart would hold up for the next few years. That night I could hardly hear the roar of the engine over the pounding of my heart. Parenting is the most challenging job in the world because you have to teach your beloved child how to live without you.

Cherish the ride. Eventually you might get to watch when it’s your child’s turn to be a parent. It’s worth the wait.

I Wanna Be Sedated: 30 Writers on Parenting Teenagers

An excellent gift for parents of teens and pre-teens, I Wanna Be Sedated: 30 Writers on Parenting Teenagers made me laugh and weep.

SOMETIMES YOU LAUGH

For a much-needed laugh, read W. Bruce Cameron’s “Teenagers Owner Manual.” His book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter kept my husband sane during our daughter’s teen years. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry also cuts loose the tethers between the teenager you want and the one you have. Because raising a teenager challenges a parent’s patience, body, mind, and soul, maintaining a sense of humor is vital. As my mother told me, “You have to pick your battles.” Now that I think about it, she didn’t laugh much when my brothers and I were in high school. However, she laughed almost every time I called when my daughter hit the hormone years. Payback, I suppose.

For perspective on parenting from those who have reached solid ground afterward, read Irene Hopkins’ “The Seven Circles of Hormone Hell.” She describes being in menopause while her daughters hit puberty.

SOMETIMES YOU CRY

Debra Gwartney’s “Runaway” offers an unflinching look into one serious situation. Other serious and poignant topics teenager face include sex education, lying, drugs, buying Kotex, tattoos, thongs, slacker report cards, the empty-nest feeling, parties without parents, racial profiling, and body-image issues.

I recommend this book to every parent facing this chaotic, exciting, and yes, rewarding family time. Parenting is not for the fainthearted and this book offers insight from survivors. I also offer insight as a survivor in “Thrill Ride of Parenting Teenagers.”

For those of you currently parenting teenagers, you have my prayers, my sympathy, and my encouragement. You can do this! I firmly believe that God designed it so that when my child reached the age to leave home, I wanted to help her pack. Since we have passed through that valley of the shadow of death, my daughter and I have become close friends. She even trusts me to occasionally watch her children. Go figure.

Do you suppose I have suddenly gained amazing parenting skills? Ha! Me neither. What I have gained from experience–patience and a sense of humor.

Thrill Ride of Parenting Teenagers

thrill ride of parenting teensPlace every thrill ride in Florida end to end as one long ride and they still could not scare, shake, rattle and roll, nauseate, induce screaming panic, disorient or to give that negative-G, freefall-in-the-dark experience like parenting teenagers. As a writer, I try to learn from my life experiences so I can portray my characters with more depth. Sometimes my life is so odd I don’t think readers will believe such experiences. Raising a teenager falls into that category of too weird to be true. The following comes from my journal.

Once my daughter was safely out of my sight in college, I staggered away from the recent years in search of a solid, level place to recover. I was reminded of a curse: May you live in interesting times. This essay is about one interesting event in that thrill ride known as parenting a teenage daughter.

My daughter’s freshman year of high school was marked as the time we most often denied ownership of Jessica, whose name means Gift of God. Conversations often began with “that child you wanted to have” or “your daughter” and followed with the shocking news of what she did. If she put off studying for an exam until the night before the exam, she was “her mother’s daughter.” Her struggles in math were attributed to my genetic influence. Her need to have the last word in an argument was chalked up to Hubby’s genetics even though his mother, father, sister, and grandmother were always gracious, patient endearing people as far as I could tell. Both Hubby and our daughter possessed a seriously dangerous belief that they could be right despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. As much as we tried to deny her, she was thoroughly a product of our genetics and our parenting, but other outside influences gradually took control of her. Forces of peer pressure and hormonal impulsiveness struck us like rogue tidal waves. We were at the mercy of forces greater than us and we sought refuge and peace in tiny increments to keep going.

We previously dreaded phone calls from telemarketers, but that year we welcomed them as a chance to chat with someone who wasn’t bringing us bad news about our daughter. We subscribed to twelve magazines and two newspapers that year through telemarketers. We didn’t have time to read them all. We were too busy separating truth from the lies we wanted to believe.

Like the time the little darling at fifteen years old started receiving calls from a friend of a friend whom she described as someone who “likes” her. She strategically omitted that this someone who likes her was twenty years old. Of course, she was flattered by the attention of an older man and never stopped to consider why a twenty-year-old man would pay attention to a minor. She lived in a world where she knew everything and adults were marginally functional idiots. We were kept around, tolerated I suppose, simply to tend to her needs.

By the grace of God, my husband and I discovered this 20-year-old someone’s identity and age before the relationship moved beyond kissing. The joker called our house at 11 p.m. on a school night and asked to speak with Jessica. Well, since her well-bred friends from grade school knew better than to call after 10 p.m. I assumed it was one of her new public high-school friends, the kind whose parents gave them the freedom to run the streets until 2 a.m.

“Who is this?”

“I am [name changed to protect his identity] Doofus, Jessica’s boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend? And how is it that we haven’t met you?”

“Well, we haven’t really been on a date yet, but we’re talking.”

In teen-speak, ‘talking’ didn’t mean talking like people do in conversation. It was the equivalent of having his posse talk to her posse in preparation for actually talking to one another. Consider “talking” as a meeting of the tribes. Once the couple actually met face to face on a date, the term changed to “hooking up” which could also mean that they were engaging in sex, but at this point in the conversation and Doofus’s relationship with Jessica I was not compelled to dump his bloody corpse at the police station.

“And which school do you attend?” I asked.

“I’m not in school.”

Silly me and my assumptions. “What does that mean, exactly?” Jail? Dropout?

“I’m twenty.”

“Well, Doofus, Jessica is fifteen. She might have told you she was older, but she’s fifteen.”

“She told me you were cool with our age difference.”

“She lied. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know you existed, so how could I possibly be cool with an adult dating my minor daughter?” At this point in the conversation, my husband sat bolt upright in bed and held his hand out for the phone. I held up my palm to signal that I would take care of this.

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, you must know that you’re looking for trouble by fishing in the kiddie pool. I may be cool about not judging people, but honestly, as an adult, I have to tell you that you need to protect yourself. Parents will wonder why a twenty-year-old isn’t dating other twenty-year-olds.”

“Oh, Jessica’s real mature for her age.”

“Or you’re just immature for your age.”

“Why are you being mean to me?”

“I am treating you like an adult. Let me explain it in terms you can understand. My daughter is a minor and you are legally an adult. If you give my child a beer, a cigarette or have sex with her, then I will make sure you go to jail or the hospital and then to jail.”

“But she likes me.”

“Of course she likes you. Teenage girls are awed by the attention of adult males. But tomorrow you will call Jessica to break off this relationship.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“That’s true. Listen. If you were twenty-five and Jessica was twenty, I would have no business getting between you two because you would both be adults. So if this is real love, it can wait until Jessica grows up. Then she can make decisions like an adult. Until then, I am in charge of her welfare. And don’t assume that you can sneak around to see her even if she suggests it. This is a small town and news gets around eventually. If you continue to see her, then I will get a restraining order. Is that clear?”

“Yeah.”

“Goodbye.”

The next morning Doofus, the 20-year-old coward, called Jessica and blamed me for making him break up with her. Very mature. Jessica labeled me a hateful person and accused me of ruining her life. She really said those words just like a soap opera actress. Fortunately, Hubby was foraging in the fridge when Jessica stormed into the room.

“But I looooooove him,” she wailed.

“Perhaps you do. And when you’re a legal adult you two can run off to China if you want, but for now, you are a minor and he’s an adult. He could go to jail for dating you, so think of breaking up as a way of keeping him out of jail.”

“You just don’t understand.” She searched for support. “Dad?”

He shrugged out of the fight since I had volunteered to handle it.

“What is it exactly that I don’t understand?” I asked.

“We’re only five years apart.” She then pointed out two May/December marriages of our friends.

“That’s an excellent argument. Yes, sometimes people of different ages fall in love. However, they are all adults.”

“So? Five years doesn’t make a difference!”

“At your age five years is a huge difference.”

“Prove it.”

“Okay.” I held up my hands.

Hubby spewed cookie crumbs. “NO!”

“Honey, I got this,” I said.

parenting teensHubby stood by eager to countermand my decision if he disagreed with it. As the head of household, he had the right and duty to make executive decisions. This was one of the few times I wanted to assert my authority as Queen of the castle, to figuratively throw down my scepter to challenge the upstart princess.

I told Jessica, “You can prove that a five-year age difference doesn’t matter. You can date any ten-year-old you want.”

Her face contorted into gasping disgust as if she had found half a worm in her apple. Words swam in her head. Finally, she shuddered and spat out, “Oh, my God, mom. I could never date a boy in grade school.”

“That,” I said in a soft voice, “Is a five-year age difference.”

The realization struck her like a slap. She looked to Hubby for support and found him suppressing a grin. She took a deep breath and spun on a heel in retreat. She slammed every door she passed on the way to her room.

Hubby mimed applause while I took a bow.

To all my friends with teenagers, take heart. When you are in the midst of an estrogen or testosterone storm with your teenager, remind yourself that this time with them will pass. Perhaps like gallstones, but they shall pass. Keep your seatbelt securely fastened for the ride.

Postscript: This article was originally published in 2006. Today my daughter is married with children of her own and I get to enjoy a front-row seat as she and her hubby face the thrill ride of parenting.

The Mom Squad

When my daughter Jessica joined the Junior Varsity Cheerleading squad in high school, I never suspected how much it would demand of both of us. Sure, the girls cheered at football games and basketball games, but these activities merely fronted for the real action—competitive cheerleading. Not for the poor or faint of heart, competitive cheerleading demanded $800 for uniforms, pom-pons, ribbons, shoes, team socks, and the requisite gallon-size bucket of glitter, on top of two-hour practices six days a week.

The girls took cheerleading seriously, but the cheerleader moms treated the whole thing like a holy mission. Many had been cheerleaders at this same high school not so long ago and longed to cheer again. When I say that the mothers wanted to cheer again, I mean they had their own team.

cheerleaders in pyramid

The premise of the mom team was that we would surprise the girls by performing a cheer for them the night before their first big competition—the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville. I was easily ten years older than the other mothers, so the idea of joining a cheerleading team made me laugh. Come on, the mothers begged. You’re not dead yet, they teased. Besides, it’ll be such fun. How hard could it be?

At the first meeting, the coaches assessed our skills. Sure, our tumbling runs included front rolls, one-handed cartwheels, and jumps, but those were as challenging to us as full-twisting back somersaults were for the girls. As a whopping size eight, I was recruited to be a base, that is, to hoist another mom in the air with the help of a partner. The coach announced she would videotape our practices. I seconded the motion for insurance purposes. We held our clandestine practices at the home of one of the coaches. A few of the moms had–let’s call it–new equipment they wanted to display, so they suggested we buy uniforms. The majority voted instead for navy shorts and matching T-shirts. Thank you, thank you. My original equipment did not need to be showcased in tight clothing. Aside from the promise of fun, cheerleading offered a chance to counteract the effects of gravity, so I threw myself into learning to cheer.

The cheer routine seemed as complicated as a music video. I kept colliding with my neighbors because I’d step left when others stepped right. I felt like one of the hippos in Disney’s cartoon classic The Fantasia, if they had been clumsy. Risking injury and loss of dignity, I still wasn’t having the promised fun.

One mom, a size zero who yearned to be mistaken for her daughter’s sister, served as a ‘flyer,’ meaning one of the women hefted overhead. One afternoon, she came to a practice fresh from a massage and since none of us could properly grip her perfectly toned, oiled calves, we kept dropping her. To make the situation worse, the flyer pleaded to the coach for different bases.

Two of us assigned to lifting Mrs. Size Zero had never cheered before and apparently had to be reminded of this dreadful gap in our education. To her we were posers and she felt obligated to call us out. Oh, the shame.

The coach yelled at us, so I asked her to show me how to do it the right way. Hey, I can play stupid. I really enjoyed watching Mrs. Size Zero slide down through the coach’s expert hands. The coach switched to practicing dance steps without another comment. At last, the promise of fun had come through.

We used the same so-called music the girls used for their cheer. Imagine a blaring radio that switches channels every twenty seconds. Add the sounds of glass breaking, horns blaring, highway traffic and rap chants then amplify that noise to the decibel level of a jet engine at takeoff. More than dance, more than gymnastics, cheerleading demanded much from us individually and in teamwork.

Months of preparations culminated in the one and only live performance of the mom team. Never mind the broken elbow suffered by one of the moms—a trooper who continued through the routine—we had survived. We proudly inhaled handfuls of Advil while our hysterically-amused daughters and spouses congratulated us.

The next day Jessica’s High School Junior Varsity girls’ team took second place in the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. They won first place at the Florida State Fair and second place at the American Open. The Varsity team was equally impressive.

Jessica retired from cheerleading her sophomore year to devote time to a social life and studies. So, at age forty something, having followed my daughter into cheerleading, I followed her out and gleefully retired my pom-pons.

Note

This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication of Mensa. I changed the names of the other moms because some of them scared me and might hunt me down.

Mom Rules

I have learned that teenagers live in the age of forgetting. Simple skills–even basic rules of civilized conduct–they mastered at age seven disappear at age 14, like closing doors, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, putting things back where they found them, hanging clothes on hangers, using hampers, carrying dirty dishes to the kitchen. They forget where they put their belongings. They forget their given names and adopt nicknames like Moose, Bucky, Bubba, Skip, and Gator. They forget civilized behavior when it disagrees with what they want to do on the impulse of the moment—like telephoning a friend at midnight.

RulesAfter studying my daughter and her friends, I found that teens respond quicker to peer-pressure than to a parent’s decrees. To wit, I developed a method for using peer pressure to my advantage—to make Mom’s rules equally memorable and effective.

Teenagers are old enough to understand civilized behavior. They know better; they just don’t care. To make them care, I wait for them to make an egregious error and then name a rule after them. For example, the Emily Rule is that no one is allowed to drive the SeaDoo on the lawn. Doing so causes the loss of driving privileges. Sucking up dirt also damages the motor.

We have a home theater that seats seven and a small exercise room beyond the theater. I’d rather have the darlings at my home where I can watch them than worry about where they are, so we share our toys. Put teenagers in the dark, however, and anything can happen, so I made it my policy to occasionally open the door, offer to make popcorn and silently count heads. On one evening the count showed two missing. I strode through the movie room to the exercise room and found a pair of teens on the floor groping one another. This enacted the Megan/Scott Rule. Now when teens settle in for a movie, they hear me say, “The Megan/Scott Rule is in effect.” The students familiar with the policy explain it to the others.

Talk about a chilling effect. Teens want to be famous but not for dumb stunts. Fear of having a rule named after them works quite well. When Bucky, an 18-year-old who lives on his own, came to visit he brought over a giant convenience store cup. He’d always behaved wonderfully on previous visits, but this time he tried to smuggle in beer. It became suspicious when these germ-phobic teens passed the drink around. I intercepted it.

Bucky pleaded, “Oh, no. You’re not going to—“

“Pour it out? Yes. Name a new rule? Oh, yes.”

He groaned, apologized and then said, “Are you going to kick me out?”

“You’re welcome here without the beer.”

He hugged me. Perhaps he’d been kicked out of homes before. As we say, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

We recently held a going-away party for one of my daughter’s close friends. About thirty teens showed up to eat like locusts and sign a giant card. Near the end of the three-hour open house a few older boys showed up. They had accessorized their cars with the latest, most useless and expensive lights to illuminate the undercarriage and the stick shift and the headliner. The party moved outside where teens ogled the car. Others did flips and cartwheels on the lawn. One of the parents called to speak with her daughter, so I carried the cordless phone outside. That’s where I picked up the scent of marijuana.

I handed the phone to the girl and closed my eyes. The wind was blowing from the west, so I pivoted westward and started walking. Like a targeted missile I headed toward the bushes. The bushes suddenly shook and two older teens burst from them.

“We were just smoking,” said one who didn’t look at me.

“Do you have a note from your doctor?”

“Sorry?” Both looked up.

“Unless you’re being treated for cancer you’re not allowed to smoke marijuana on my property. It’s time for you to go home.”

“Who said we were smoking pot?” said the one with spiked hair. He glared at the other teens standing far off.

“I grew up in the sixties.”

They mumbled apologies and left. Before they had left the block a group of teens gathered around me and asked what I was going to do.

“I’m going to make a new rule. Since I didn’t get names, theirs is the Dope Rule. If this happens again I’ll call the police, so spread the word.”

Rules for TeenagersAnd yes, lest the gentle reader imagines that only visiting teenagers earn rules, let me state the Jessica rule. There will be no parties held at the house unless at least one parent is at home. The darlings cleaned up so well we almost didn’t detect the party, except for the drained boat tank and the rearrangement of pool furniture. Jessica was in full-denial mode until Bucky visited the next week and casually asked me if I was proud of how they cleaned up after themselves. The poor dear young man simultaneously received a pat on the back from me, and a kick in the shins under the table from Jessica.

Years from now when these young people graduate from the age of forgetting I hope they will remember the safe haven of my home. Mine won’t be the house they remember for the shooting or the Saturday night fights or the liquor closet. I hope they remember my house for the movies, the afternoons on the lake, the pizza parties, and the Rules. Perhaps they will even use my techniques on their own children. Let this be my legacy.

___________________

Tampa Bay Sounding, a publication within the high-IQ organization Mensa. Yep, I am a card-carrying geek and proud of it.

Rocket Mom

Reaching middle age drove me to get in touch with my true geek self—my inner astronaut—who understands the seduction of speed and power. Earning a pilot’s license, then an instrument rating failed to satisfy me because part of my life remained stuck in low gear behind the wheel of the family van. I wanted satisfaction in a vehicle that suited the real me. That’s when fantasy whispered that I’d have to win the Florida Lottery to afford my dream vehicle.

RocketMy attraction to the Space Shuttle was lust at first roar. I ask you, what’s not to like with a vehicle that cruises at 17,322 miles per hour? Nothing says speed like three Gs pressing on your chest. Accelerating from a standstill to Mach 1 in sixty seconds, the shuttle offers the ultimate thrill ride. Can you imagine the rush of being pressed back into the pilot’s seat to exceed the speed of the sound of the booster rockets one minute after starting them? The fastest NASCAR vehicle would look like it was racing in reverse against the shuttle. Wheeeha! Now wouldn’t that kind of pick up come in handy for merging into highway traffic? And thanks to the plumes from the solid rocket boosters, no one would dare tailgate. Talk about the ultimate in off-road vehicles, who needs roads?

And wait, it gets better. The Space Shuttle seats seven. The five-point harness seatbelts far exceed highway safety recommendations. And cargo space? It hauls 22,000 pounds of gear, the equivalent of three and a half disassembled Lincoln Navigators.

As I test drove SUVs of various makes and models, I dreamt of serious engine power. Just as a Harley engine turns heads with its distinctive growl, one booster rocket could drown out an entire Harley Rally. That’s what I’m talking about.

While a salesman cooed about tinted windows of the Ford Expedition, I remembered the shuttle’s thermal protection system, designed to keep the passenger area cool even when external temperatures soar to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Features like four-wheel anti-lock brakes and side airbags sound so lame compared to deployable twin parachutes.

When another salesman pointed out the nifty combination TV VCR in the Oldsmobile Silhouette, my mind envisioned the shuttle’s closed circuit television system, spiffy S-band phase modulation transceiver and the state-of-the-art Ku-band rendezvous radar.

The shuttle’s sales representatives would never point out cup holders or the vanity mirror or any of the other stuff unenlightened salesmen feel compelled to show women. No, siree. If I were buying my dream vehicle, a team of engineers would fly in to answer my questions. They’d paint it whatever dang color I wanted. It would be made to order. I would demand that the engineers do something no automobile manufacturer has managed to get right—design a place where a woman can stash her purse within easy reach. That single feature would make me the envy of the car pool set.

Okay, okay, beyond terrific bragging rights, would the space shuttle satisfy my other needs? The Toyota 4Runner had well-labeled controls that I could operate on my own, whereas the shuttle had 100 times more displays and controls. Sigh. Even though I’m an instrument-rated pilot, the shuttle’s control panel looked daunting. I bet the owner’s manual comes in volumes. Who wants to read those things?

There were no mileage statistics in the space shuttle press kit, so I contacted one of the friendly geniuses through the NASA home page. After he stopped laughing, Dave Williams, of the National Space Science Data Center, gave a rough calculation of 400,000 miles a day. Based on my driving style, which is to go as far as possible per tank, I used the maximum flight time recommended for the shuttle—18 days. At 400,000 miles per day, that came to 7,200,000 miles between fill ups. Of course no mere van or SUV could compete with that, but the fantasy started to unravel when I discovered that refueling the space shuttle would require going to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida or the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

When I bought my previous mom-mobile van in 1991, it cost $21 to refuel the van and $613,040 to refuel the space shuttle. Hmm. I’m afraid to calculate what it would cost now. It’s one of those situations in which if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it. So fuel charges would consume the rest of my imaginary lottery winnings.

Then there’s the problem of vehicle size. The space shuttle won’t fit in the garage, even if my husband parked his car in the driveway. Though I’d always be able to locate the space shuttle in the mall parking lot, did this feature outweigh the others?

My dream vehicle couldn’t tow a boat without melting it. Parallel parking would be out of the question. How would I execute a U-turn on a four-lane road to backtrack to the intersection I missed? Would the space shuttle possess that wonderful new vehicle smell?

Lottery winnings aside, the deciding factor would have to be availability. New shuttles just aren’t on the market. Really, deep down, who wouldn’t prefer a new vehicle over a used one? Of all the vehicles I test drove, the Toyota 4Runner emerged the winner, though it was a slower, less fuel-efficient production vehicle than the space shuttle, a new 4Runner suited my lifestyle. True, it was a sacrifice of speed in favor of handling, but all vehicle buyers contend with such choices.

Rocket Mom toysSo to satisfy my mid-life yearnings, I earned my pilot’s license and I bought the Toyota 4Runner Limited Edition in Millennium Silver and named it Rocket. My front license plate read “FLY.”  You’ll recognize me as the forty-something woman hauling a carload of teenagers. I’ll be embarrassing my daughter by playing the “Top Gun” soundtrack on nearly full volume, riding with the moon roof open and letting the wind blow through my hair. You can’t do that on the space shuttle.

__________

This essay previously appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding, a publication within the high-IQ organization Mensa. This essay was nominated for Mensa’s Publication Recognition Program in the humor category. It didn’t win, but it was fun to have it picked up by other publications in Mensa. Since this essay was written my daughter has gone to college and is driving her own vehicle, listening to her own music.