Spuds, after his first attempt at the exam, is licensed to drive. The following day he leaves in my car to self transport to school. I run out into the street to take a picture. “No!” he wails. “You just want to post it on Facebook.” Spuds logged off Facebook about six months ago and feels real superior to the more needy of us who live to amass “likes.” “I'm proud of you,” I whine. He doesn't give the finger like he's done at other times I've fixed my camera on him but he begrudges me a shit eating grin and comes off looking vaguely smug. He drives off to school and obediently texts me when he arrives. Losing my chauffeur gig of nearly two decades means I can sleep an hour later but I never remember being more exhausted.
Knowing that the kids are going to require less and less of me and that Himself dislikes chit chat, I need to find some extra fulfillment that will ward off empty nest induced psychosis. I enroll in a workshop to hone the art of performing personal essays. I have never presented any of my writing to an audience. I cobble out a pretty good piece but I step on the stage and find that my mouth has forgotten how to form words. I bomb out abysmally reading for my classmates. I am determined to redeem myself on my next attempt but the actual sitting down and creating a piece hasn't happened.
My exacting editor returns the full length remembrance of my childhood of which I'd been very proud. Virtually a full rewrite is required. I know how much stronger this will make the book and even have in my head what I want to do. I open the file and fool around a little bit with a few paragraphs but soon feel overwhelmed. I take a break and poke around the net. I run accounts receivables reports in Quickbooks which induces a state of pure catatonia and I am unfit then for anything but watching pet videos on Facebook.
I see kids I've known since nursery school who have returned from college at a party. My boys complain that every adult they meet says the same thing, “You're so tall,” and “How do you like college?” to Murphy Major or “Where are you applying for college?” to Spuds. I am just as unoriginal when I see my friend's kids although I guess noting their adult height or asking about college is preferable to, “I remember when you wet your pants in my car.”
Spuds has decided to apply for early admission at Wesleyan. When he discovers that two very accomplished friends of his brother, who landed at prestigious colleges, had been rejected by Wesleyan he is downcast. One of the rejectees is home from college. Instead of telling Spuds, like I probably would have, “Yeah, it's a really tough school. You should apply to _______ instead...,” he encourages Spuds not to lose hope and gives him some practical advice. I am pleased that the kids my kids have grown up with have become so mature and generous. I am pleased too that Spuds is able to recognize strength of character when he sees it.
Spuds, having archived some material at my library that generates a sale, has been promised a car. The apoplexy induced by the fruits of my loins driving around hither and yon is minimized a bit by knowing they're driving vehicles that are as close to Sherman tanks as you can get and stay street legal. I peruse Craigslist for Volvos. There is a brand new posting for a 1990 240 DL which is the car Spuds has already indicated he would like. Actually he indicated he wanted a “cool old Volvo with slatted headrests” and this fills the bill. I e-mail immediately asking the seller if he'd be willing to bring the car over to my mechanic. Used Volvos sell pretty quickly so I expect to be ignored or refused but I get a polite note back saying that this is fine.
I show our mechanic Jimmy the description of the car. Jimmy is from Thailand. He's trustworthy, affable and loquacious. But, even after having taught ESL for over a decade I only understand about 1/3 of what he says. “Buy it Momma!” is pretty clear though. Jimmy is the same age as I am but has always called me “Momma.” I have gotten over feeling ancient at this and now accept it as a sign of respect although he's probably just stymied by my name. Eric, the Volvo seller, meets me at Jimmy's. He is around twenty, a white blonde beanpole with a haircut that riffs on a Mohawk, a number of piercings and a tattoo on his neck. Eric is leaving Saturday to serve for a year in the Finnish army. He is heartbroken about selling the car which he's lavished love on but he needs some pocket money. He tells us that he's half Finnish and that his dad was a Volvo mechanic. Finnish military service is very different than ours. The emphasis is on peacekeeping. He'll only be required on the base during the week and will have lots of free time to explore Europe. The DL is in good shape for a car that's over twenty years old as Eric has really kept it up. Jimmy notices an oil leak though and in his usual flawless English, tells Eric, “Needs work. Make it more.” I ask Jimmy if he doesn't actually mean “Make it less.” He accedes and we are able to negotiate a fair price.
Eric and I complete the paperwork at my office. Spuds arrives unexpectedly. I introduce him and tell him that Eric has a surprise for him. We present that car. Spuds is usually moderate in his expression of emotion. When he processes that the car is actually his car he whoops and gushes, “It's exactly what I wanted.” We decide that Spuds will drive Eric home to Pasadena. I hug Eric and warn him that Spuds has been licensed for less than a week. Spuds hears the history of the car and reports that Eric is enormously cool, and except for telling him to “watch it” a few times, chill about his driving. I receive a note from Eric later that evening thanking us all for being so nice and wishing us luck with the car. Spuds thanks me about every ten minutes and goes outside to look at the car again and again.
We are a four Volvo family now. The kids drive themselves where they want to go leaving me free for what I hope becomes something. Spuds is with us for just another year and then it's college, followed by the rest of his life. And the rest of mine. I wonder if it will ever be in my power again to make him so happy.