Tuesday, November 24, 2009


My first car was like this Ford Fiesta.

I should be out grocery shopping and getting ready for the Thanksgiving crowd I am hosting this Thursday but instead I am waiting for an auto mechanic who makes house calls to come help me. My ten-year-old minivan refuses to start today. Well, technically, she can start--the problem is the key no longer turns in the ignition. Alas it is not a simple fix--the spare keys don't work either which means the key isn't worn out but the ignition is and banging on it with a hammer is not working.

My kids keep telling me we need a new minivan. I say, "You're a bunch of wimps." They have no idea what it's like to drive a real beater around. Right now the only thing wrong with my car (except for the aforementioned issue) is that the passenger window rolls down but doesn't always roll up. Which is why I say, "Quite whining and hold a towel over the window" when it rains. Usually it will roll back up but only after you drive around a bit pretending you don't care that the elements are coming in on you. The back wiper doesn't work either but so what? How many cars actually have back wipers anyway? The trunk latch broke a few months ago but I did replace that. You really can't have a mini van without the use of a trunk.

Other than that for a ten-year-old car with 100,000 mile on it, it goes great. It is NOT anywhere near the clunker/replace it now stage--and believe me I know.

My first car ever was a used Ford Fiesta my parents bought me when I graduated from college. Now that car sucked. It had fuses that blew if I made a left hand turn with the radio on (I knew how to change them without stopping, they were in the dashboard) and the gas gauge never worked so of course I was frequently running out of gas because I had miscalculated how far a tank of gas would go. It broke down constantly and was so poorly designed you had to pull the engine to do even minor repairs. In case you have never heard the words "pull the engine" let me translate. It means "will cost way more money than you have and take days to repair."

It is one of life's sad truths that only people without much money drive shitty cars that need a lot of money to repair regularly which is why I finally got rid of the car when they told me they had to "pull the engine" to change the oil. I am only exaggerating slightly on that.

My second car was a used Toyota Corolla. It was awesome! It NEVER broke down and the only money I put into it was for brakes. I would still have that car if I hadn't had kids. I can only imagine their complaining if I did still have it. It had vinyl seats, no air-conditioning, crank windows and NO radio which believe me you do not miss as much as you think you'd might. It was a stick shift (which I happen to drive with amazing skill if I do say so myself) and I loved tooling around in that.

Between the Corolla and the mini-van I bought my parents used Buick LeSabre. I know, it looked funny to see me get out of a Grandpa car with my two toddlers in their car seats but that was a nice car too. Very comfy and plush. The only thing was that after driving the Corolla with the manual, that thing was like driving a La-Z-Boy with wheels. Comfortable but boring.

I happily traded that up for my only new car--the now old mini-van and I've been very satisfied with that since. It does the trick when you have kids and it's a Toyota so it doesn't break down.

I had to borrow Coffee Friend 2's car this morning to go to a school appointment and she told me, "Why don't you quit being a cheap hippie and get rid of that piece of shit car before you break down on Lake Avenue like trash." Really. She says stuff like that to me all the time which is why she's one of my favorite people in the world.

But the fact is that even though I can afford a new car (or at least a new used car) I just don't know what I'd get. I still need a minivan and really, who gets rid of a car just because it rains inside occasionally or you can't turn it on when you need it.

Not me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I am thankful I have a minivan and I can afford to repair it when it breaks down!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Landing Safely in Madrid

When we took a family vacation to Spain in '08 we had to fly on Friday the 13th and Lilly was convinced the plane was going to crash. Lilly is incredibly superstitious, has an over-active imagination, and is more than a little bit morbid. She went online and picked out her casket. It was a cute little thing with a teddy bear on it. She packed reluctantly pointing out that she would never get to wear those clothes anyway.

When she gets like this no amount of logic or reason can dissuade her from her morbid thoughts. Maybe having cancer at the age of four makes you this way. Maybe she would be this way anyway. I don't really know. When she was 7 she was obsessed with "What happens when we're all dead and the world ends?" This bothered her so much I finally made her go talk to our minister. I don't know what that wonderful Pastor Kristen said but after an hour in her office Lilly stopped worrying about the end of the world.

Until lately because now the news and internet are full of this "End of the world in 2012" crap that's been floating around lately. I tried reason, pointing out that the end of the world has been predicted many many times and it has not happened yet. Then that damn movie came out. "Why did they make a movie about it if it isn't going to happen?" she wanted to know. I pointed out that most things in movies don't really happen like old men floating in houses held up by helium balloons going to South America. She was not reassured.

It probably does not help that sometimes, having worn down all my logic and reassurance I tend to go to the sarcasm. Like last night when she brought it up again and I said, "Hey do we have an actual date on the end of the world?" Yes, Atticus informed me, it is December 21, 2012. "Awesome! I don't have to buy any Christmas presents. I could tell you I bought you a pony but I won't actually have to deliver."

Lilly countered, "You don't care if the world ends in three years because you're old! But I just got here." I had to explain I was kidding because I'm not worried about it. I tried to enlist some help, turning to Atticus who is well-versed in this kind of thing due to the hours he logs watching The History Channel. "Tell your sister. The Mayans did not predict the future." "Well," he said, "They did accurately predict World War II" This sent Lilly screaming from the room to go say goodbye to her rabbit.

Luckily, I am very happy to report that thanks to my beloved New York Times, this morning we put an end to all the nonsense because today they published an essay entitled, "Is Doomsday Coming?: Perhaps But Not in 2012" In it, the author assures us that according to NASA and other reliable sources, there is no evidence that the Mayan prediction will come true. I made Lilly read the whole article as she ate her eggs. She kept quoting the happy news, "Hey, NASA says so!" and "This scientist says 'Most of what’s claimed for 2012 relies on wishful thinking, wild pseudoscientific folly, ignorance of astronomy and a level of paranoia worthy of ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ " after she tripped over the word pseudoscientific she chuckled out loud.

She asked if she could cut the article out and take it to school. "I'm going to show it to all those crazy kids who are scared," she said, conveniently ignoring the fact that until ten minutes ago she was one of those crazy kids.

And so I sent her off to school, relieved for the first time in months that the world will not end any time soon and I felt good too knowing that Pastor Kristen and the New York Times have got my back.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Jeff and Grace with Veerle, Max, and Laurent who are all destined to be mythical creatures.
Mr. E., the father of Lilly's BFF Danielle, is like a character in a movie to Lilly. He even has a tagline--whenever she calls he sings into the phone, "Lilly Ludwig--Lilly Ludwig--Lilly Lilly Lilly" before he goes to get Danielle. And ever since big sister Grace gave a speech at the eighth grade graduation last spring he brings it up whenever Lilly visits. "That sister of yours--she's going places. She can give a great speech. Wonderful skill. Alexander," here he pauses to look at his own offspring, same age as Grace, "You should be able to give a speech like Grace. That girl is going places." And as if that were not enough fodder to entertain Lilly for hours (she is a great mimic) Lilly went sailing with the family this fall and every time Mr. E. found a piece of litter in Lake Michigan he would head the boat toward it, fish it out of the water and hold it aloft shouting to the world at large, "This is nature's playground people! Is this how you treat it?"

When Lilly tells me all of this I am reminded of that wonderful, mythical creature of my own childhood--my friends' parents. I remember them all so clearly and with great fondness and amusement.

There was Mr. K. who was the nutty community college professor who seemed to have disdain for anyone less intelligent than him (or is it he? this would make him crazy) and his equally brilliant wife Mrs. K. who loved to do jigsaw puzzles then shellac them and hang them on the walls. The K. family thrived on order and predictability and actually had the same meal schedule every week. Monday was chicken, Tuesday meatloaf and so on. I loved that I could always get my favorite meal--a BLT on any given Friday of my entire junior and high school career.

I grew up next door to my best friend Jenny S. Her dad was a huge man with a perverse sense of humor. He told his kids outrageous lies like "Eat the burned toast, it will clear up your acne." Once, returning from an excursion to see the fireworks they shoot over the Detroit river (we had been on the Canadian side) we got stuck for hours on the Ambassador Bridge. Both Jack (his son) and I desperately had to use the bathroom. Instead of trying to find a place for us to relieve ourselves or reassuring us he kept saying, "Think of running water, kids!" "Try to focus on sprinkling fountains!"

Equally intriguing were those people we saw less frequently but were no less mythic: the friends of our parents. Mr. and Mrs. W. who did not have children but had a poodle named FiFi who had her own bedroom with a pink princess phone! They were impossibly glamorous: they only drove Cadillacs and smoked cigarettes and Mrs. W. always left a smear of lipstick on her cocktail glass. And Mr. D. the three (plus) martini lunch man who occasionally called late at night, waking my parents to invite my father to join him at the bar. He was one of the original Mad Men.

In college I met a whole new cast of friends' parents, widening my circle. I was especially fond of Mr. and Mrs. D. Both were fabulously brilliant people of wit and words. A sort of Nick and Nora of Southfield Michigan. He was an editor for the AP and she was a Smith grad, something I'd barely heard of until I met her. They both smoked and could do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink and drank whiskey sours. I adored them both as they were the kind of couple who made you feel like they were just sitting by the fire waiting for you to drop in on them at any time.

As I go over all the parents of my friends in my mind I realize many of them stood just in front of a shadow I only glimpsed from time to time. As a guest in a friends' house, a child sees just a bit more than an adult would and I was aware even as a kid that sometimes something else was going on in a home. As an adult I now know there were in many households struggles with alcohol, marital problems, eating disorders, and abuse. But as a kid I never thought to ask about it or judge it--it was just there.

It is hard for me to believe that we are now the friends' parents and the parents' friends of many. What do they see when we are around or are being talked about? I know Jeff has gone a long way toward being an eccentric memory for our children's friends: between the fact that he never puts his guitar down and that he sings with great gusto as he plays and that he insists on greeting every child who enters our home with a conversation stopping, "So, tell me a story!" (he thinks this is a conversation starter) he is well on his way to being frozen as a childhood memory for some.

I do not really know how I am viewed by my children's friends. I just hope I am memorable enough to some day be immortalized as one of these great and mythical creatures--a friend's parent.