Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Shift, or Not To Shift

As I'm sure you'll recall, my last post was about buying a new car.  I'm very happy with the new car, make no mistake.  However it's necessitated a bit of relearning on my part.  I've had to relearn how to shift.  Why, yes, it is a manual transmission.  I have, in fact, been, as they say, "driving standard" for the past seven years.  But as anyone else who "has a stick" knows, there's a bit more involved in driving a manual transmission car than just putting it in drive and hoping for the best (honestly, I had to drive a loaner car recently that was an automatic, and it felt like it had a mind of its own.  It was decidedly disconcerting).  With a manual you have to be, as they say, "one with the car."  You have to feel what it feels.  You have to remember to put the clutch in when you stop or risk stalling out and looking like an idiot in front of everyone else at the intersection.  You have to remember at what point the clutch is no longer engaged, or risk looking like a bigger idiot as your car stalls out starting from first gear.  You have to remember to put the car in first gear in the first place.

Of course I knew how to do all this with my old car.  Driving that, for me, was as easy and automatic as falling up the stairs.  But the new car.  For people who drive standard, who really enjoy it, the car becomes practically an extension of oneself (for those who don't enjoy it, you rather find yourself making a mental note never to be in a car with them again, ever).  The old car was broken in, it was easy going, it didn't complain much.  The new car, oh the new car.  All it takes is one wrong move.  Don't get me wrong, I love how it growls and purrs (diesel), how it kicks in with a bit of unexpected acceleration (turbo), but it's been difficult, learning to play by a new set of rules.  Going from a 5-speed 4-cylinder gas engine to a 6-speed 4-cylinder diesel is like going from a mountain bike to a road bike.  It does not like being in the wrong gear, and it even tells you when you're doing it wrong!  Ah, how technology has advanced in the past 13 years.

Adapting to change, as a grownup person, having been in the habit of doing a thing a certain way, for a very long time, is difficult.  It's demoralizing.  Every jerk and shudder, every less than smooth transition from gear to gear, leaves you feeling like an idiot.  And then the kinder chimes in from the back seat and asks why you keep doing that.

Kids have a way of pointing an incredibly strong magnifying lens at everything we, as adults, take for granted.  Adults are capable, dependable, good at things.  Until they have to do something in front of a child.  Children, in their innocent, blank-slate outlook on things, can make even the most confident adult person question everything they know about a situation.  So what if you're a world-class mechanical engineer, it's been five minutes since I unwrapped my new bike for Christmas, why haven't you put it together yet?  Are the little screws too tiny for your old, experienced eyes to see?  What's a war?  Why do people fight in wars?  You tell me all the time to be nice to people, why do they get to fight in a war?

Having been step-keeper of a 6-year-old for almost a year now, I often find myself trying to imagine what kind of person could ever think they were ready to be a parent.  What person could ever have their life so in order that they feel confident performing in front of a new human for 18 or so years?  We tell these little life forms all about how they must be polite, and not do destructive things to the furniture, and talk about their feelings instead of screaming and throwing things across the room, and various other things we, as adults, imagine that we never ever do anymore.

We picture growing up as an act of increasing self-awareness, the ability to measure our actions against a growing yardstick of social approval, and that we, as the grownups, have achieved such great heights of maturity.  Some of us, I suppose, truly have.  Most of us, I suspect, have got close enough that we can occasionally reach the summit with enough effort and a good enough leap.  And usually that's good enough to be getting on with.

Until we're put in front of a child.  Until we have to turn a psychopath into a human being.  Until we have to watch that little human-in-training go out into the world and perform in front of other adults, judgey adults with the kind of selective outlook on their own adultness that we used to have before we became guardian to this little person's moral and emotional growth.  Now every time we tell a child to do or not to do something, that magnifying lens immediately points straight at us, judging us for all the things for which we judge our children.  Use please and thank-you?  How many times a day do we omit please or thank-you?  Talk about our feelings instead of turning into passive-agressive monsters?  Do we always pick up our things and put them in the right place, or just when it's convenient?  Name-calling and other uncharitable speech?

What kind of humans did we think we were, that we could successfully perform humanness in front of a new one?  How do we expect to guide the next generation of humans if we ourselves don't even have things figured out?  And, being a positive example and all that aside, how do we expect to get on with our lives, get things figured out, if we've got these little monsters running rampant around our ankles, getting into all kinds of trouble?  That's the worst realization I've come to.  Benevolence, when raising kids, doesn't really enter into it.  The best reason to fix your life and act like a decent human being is the simple fact that the more you practice your own shrill orders to wash hands, pick up stuff, use manners, not destroy things, the fewer questions you have to answer about why kids have to do all those things but adults don't, the more likely kids will be to just do the things you want them to.

So you can get back to the business of being an immature adult person.