Almost grown, but not quite

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During those seven magical years growing up on Flamingo Street, our parents gave us many golden nuggets of advice that helped formed my personality as an adult. I think back almost every day on those years with fondness, drawing upon them for joy, inspiration, and using them as a guide as I navigate through the sometimes turbulent waters of life.

One of those nuggets I shared last night with the college-bound teenager who lives in our house. It was good life advice when I was a kid and good advice for any teenager to hear today.

The teenager came seeking help with a rapidly deflating car tire. Could I change it for her? I, being the wonderful, helpful person that I am, answered with a resounding, “No. I will not change your tire.”

My answer hung in the air for a moment, then I added, “But I’ll be happy to guide you as you change your own tire.”

She stiffened, looking like a deer in headlights at this unexpected response then declared, “No. Wait. What? Big Papa, I can’t change a tire.”

“Can’t never could,” I said while leading the confused teenager outside for the next hour of instruction. Why did it take almost an hour to change one tire you might ask? The answer to that question made for an entertaining evening … at least for The Wife and me.

When we reached her car, our teenager proudly announced, “I know where the spare tire is!” She opened the hatchback and pointed, “It’s under there.” I told her it was good that she knew where it was. Now it was time for her to get it out. Upon hearing this, the deer in headlights returned. “Me?”

“Yep, you,” I replied. After she successfully removed the small spare from its hiding space under the floor mat, I instructed her to get the owner’s manual from the glove compartment explaining that it would show where, on the underside of the frame, to place the jack. “If you put it in the wrong place and start to jack up your car, you can tear a huge hole in the metal body. Been there, done that.”

After making sure the car was in park, emergency brake was on, and opposite wheel was chocked, I went inside. It was starting to get dark, so I retrieved a flashlight along with a thick blanket. (Concrete is very hard, and these old knees prefer kneeling on a nice soft blanket.)

Holding the flashlight, I gave advice and encouragement as she fumbled a little with placement of the jack. “Always place the jack on concrete or asphalt, never dirt or gravel. Just trust me on this. Been there, done that, and it didn’t turn out well.”

I continued, “Also, loosen the lug nuts on the tire before you raise it off the ground; otherwise, the tire will just spin around in a circle. Been there, done that too. And don’t put the lug nuts on the ground. Put them in the hubcap or trunk. Otherwise, they may roll away and you’ll spent a lot of time looking for them.” I cut on the flashlight for effect, “Especially if it’s dark.”

After stomping on the lug wrench to loosen the nuts, she started to jack up the car and remarked, “Let me guess: been there, done that?” That’s our teenager, she’s really smart.

After pulling the flat tire off, she replaced it with the “cute” emergency spare. By this time The Wife had joined us and told her the correct way to tighten the lug nuts, “Top, bottom, left and then right. That’s how my dad taught me.”

With the tire changed and the car lowered to the ground once again, our teenager looked down at the old tire and asked, “What do I do with this?” I told her to put it in the back of the car and we’d go get it patched in the morning. The deer returned one last time. “Who, me? I can’t do that.”

As it started to rain, she got the tire back into the car, replaced all the tools correctly, and even remembered to put the owner’s manual back in the glove compartment. The rain became a downpour as we ran back inside the garage, and I asked how she felt after changing her first tire.

She answered, “It really wasn’t that hard.” Then looking down at her hands she added, “My hands are really dirty.” With that, her mom who had been standing by watching through the entire tire changing event (and had suggested she “stomp on it” to loosen the lug nuts) announced that she just ordered a tire changing survival kit that included a flashlight, gloves, and waterless hand cleaner.

Our teenager went upstairs to wash her hands, and The Wife and I went back inside. I’ve found one of the most enjoyable things in life is to take a skill our parents taught us and teach it to someone else — especially when that someone is our teenager who is about to go off to college in two more months. Almost grown, but not quite.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]