Friday, February 24, 2017

Big Blessing in a Small Package

     One Sunday afternoon I was feeling restless and took Jaren for a walk down the street in the opposite direction from usual to see the house advertised for rent on a telephone pole notice.
     Can we see Nala?” he asked about a neighborhood cat.  
     “The owners moved out and took all the cats with them,” I said. “We walked by there a couple of times since and Nala wasn't there. We can check, though.”
     After seeing the large but rather worn down and gloomy rental house and speculating on its rate ($4,500 per month?), we continued on to see two houses being constructed further down. At what used to be Nala's house, we saw a gray striped tabby—large, clean, and well groomed—standing out front. (Nala was a slender blue-eyed Siamese.) I said, Meow. Jaren said, Meow. And the cat ran toward us crying, Meow.
     “Bend down and he'll come,” I said.
     Jaren squatted and the cat approached, rubbed against him, walked past me, accepted our pets, and laid down on the sidewalk, exposing its underside. “That mean he really trusts us. That's a very vulnerable position,” I said.
     Ten minutes into our time with the cat, Jaren began looking toward the house.
     “Hi, Jaren,” a female voice called from within.
     “Hi Miss Talbot,” said Jaren.
     It turned out the occupant was an elementary school substitute teacher who'd filled in at Jaren's class a couple times. Her family moved into the house about a year ago. Her son Alfred was Jaren's classmate and he came out to play for awhile with Jaren. But then he had to go back in, so we continued down the street and the cat followed us at a trot. Miss Talbot had told us she didn't know the cat's name; the cat adopted them; the cat started coming around right after they moved in. I told Jaren it was probably the previous owner's since they had more than twenty rescued cats, and they probably couldn't find him when they left. The cat was male, so he wandered around versus a female that would stay home.
     On our way back from seeing the houses being built, we pet the cat by the Talbot's house again. Alfred came out to play and another neighborhood kid—a bit older—dropped by to hang out. This large boy said his mother named the cat Midnight and hated it because it left footprints on their car. After he left and Alfred went back in, we headed home.
     A couple weeks later, we went to visit Midnight and Alfred came out to play with Jaren. Since we couldn't stay long I suggested Jaren exchange phone numbers to arrange a play date. It took awhile, but Alfred finally ran out with a phone number and Jaren gave him ours the next day at school.
     Two weeks went by and Alfred twice wasn't home when Jaren called. Finally Miss Talbot dropped him off for a couple hours of play on a weekend and they had a nice time together.
     At first I felt so blessed that we had a loving, friendly neighborhood cat to play with, knowing how rare it is for a cat to be so friendly with strangers. I still feel that way. But I also feel so blessed that Jaren finally has a neighborhood friend to play with—just as I had several when growing up.
     From a simple walk expecting nothing much (it was mere curiosity and restlessness and a gentle prompting that led me to go) such great blessings. Praise God! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Driver's Ed

     Braden was second on the wait list for his school's winter driver's education classes—free and assigned based on lottery draw due to the limited slots in the popular twice per year classes. But then he moved up and got in, hallelujah!
     Amazing to me, he and his cousin Julie aren't all that keen on learning to drive—both because they've gotten used to catching The Bus, while Julie also catches rides with friends. But I felt that for Braden, if he is to live the adventuresome, independent life that I suspect he'll one day crave, driving will be a very worthwhile skill to have. Now's as good a time as any to learn as it's free, he's pretty responsible, and he has the time.
     At an introductory overview meeting that mandated a parent's attendance, Deanne learned that fifty hours of driving outside class (ten hours night time) was “required.” The course would consist of a first half of lectures and a second half of behind-the-wheel driving. I'd decided that I wouldn't take him driving because it (the stress) would kill me, so that he'd have to take private lessons (since Deanne wasn't up to the task, either). Turns out lessons cost (per Braden's research) sixty dollars an hour! I'd earlier told him he'd have to pay for these lessons so that he'd have “skin in the game” and would therefore take them more seriously. But the total cost of $60 x 50 = $3,000 was Yikes! expensive for a little over a week of driving. (Turns out the hourly rate translates to $120,000 per year! For driving?)
     But after I thought some, it occurred to me that it might be alright to teach him some. I might not overstress. It could be a good one-of-the-last-things-we-do-together while he's still at home. Just give him a wide open parking lot and let him go. That's how I'd learned best, alone in the school's band parking lot with a friend's stick shift Dodge Colt. Just going slow, turning, reversing, seeing what would happened if I did this or that and noting the car's reaction until it became an extension of me. I'd just be there to give occasional tips and guidance and let him go.
     So we went. Well, first we did a five minute start-the-car, learn the controls, adjust the seats and mirrors, shift gears, release the handbrake (not in that order) drill in our garage. Then we went to our former church's parking lot where he reversed, drove around in circles, parked, pressed the accelerator and brakes, got the RPMs to hit 750, etc. for an hour. Then the following week we did another hour—same place—where he looped around in both directions to get closer to road-ready since his on-road driving is approaching quick.
     He's slowly (literally) getting the feel and coordination as we crawl along the lot, oversteering less, not pulsing the accelerator so much, holding a steadier pace even on slopes. I taught Deanne to drive (awful strain, stress, and pain) and he's progressing a lot better because of greater instinctive feel. To my surprise (and relief) he hasn't been giddy-excited (like Deanne had initially been), maintaining a sober, thoughtful state throughout. He won't be D.E.'s fastest learner, for sure, but he won't be its slowest, either. My guess is he's about average.
     That suits me fine as I trust he's more responsible than the average D.E. teen. He's just not into showing off, being one of the (reckless) boys, or hopefully, using the car to vent his teen angst. In that regard, he may do a heck of a lot better than his old man did at his age. (I didn't wreck any cars, but I was far from the safest driver.)