The Stick-Shift Diaries

I’m starting to think that Saoirse comes by her fascination with cars quite honestly, given the way David and I pounce on the newest issue of Motor Trend the instant it lands in the mailbox. It’s only been in recent years, when we’ve had to buy vehicles with “sensible” and “family” in the descriptions, that I’ve realized how very much we’re, well, into cars. It’s just a little inconvenient that our status as a one-income family with small children doesn’t exactly jibe with what we see on those glossy pages.

The other day, the girls and I were running some errands, and Saoirse saw a vehicle the exact year and model as my old one. “Look, Mom! Your red car!” she exlaimed, pointing out the window. I was shocked. We’d sold my cute little Jetta when I was pregnant with Quinn because two car seats wouldn’t fit in the thing (that and we were about to sink a down payment’s worth of money on repairs, so alas, new car). How did she remember a car we haven’t owned since she was one? “You need another red car, Mom,” SK continued. “I want that car again.” Me, too, Saoirse. Me, too. I loved Betsy (of course, she had a name!): the power of shifting gears myself. Zipping through the lanes of Baltimore’s Charles Street with the sunroof open on my way to grad class on Saturday mornings. Being able to parallel park in a spot the size of an index card. Ah, the days when I didn’t need to know what LATCH system meant.

I had to laugh yesterday as I parked our present vehicle, an SUV, at a nature center outside Baltimore. We were meeting my friend Annie and her son, and as she quickly zoomed her Versa into a spot, I looked around the lot and joked that I was afraid our tires would be slashed. Helga (yes, really) sat like a gigantic island in a sea of Versas, Priuses, and mini Coopers. She was large. And most definitely looked like the boss of the place. I was a little embarrassed that I was responsible for the gas-guzzler. But you know what? Helga’s been good to us. She easily holds strollers, and groceries for four. She’ll be able to accommodate more car seats should we keep this whole procreating thing going, and at her enormous wheel, I feel like I can drive through these mean Pennsylvania winters without sliding off the road at the first snowflake. And besides, it’s kind of nice not seeing my child’s head bop back and forth every time the car shifts gears. 

I remind myself of this every time I fill that cavernous gas tank, or accidentally move to press a clutch that’s not there. I do prefer a manual transmission. And I like not being egged every time I drive by a hybrid. But for every stage of life, there is a car. One day, Saoirse, a red car will be mine again. It may even be a 6-speed this time. But when that time comes, she’ll probably be old enough to drive it. Uh. On second thought, Helga will do just fine.

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