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Posts Tagged ‘mountains and molehills’

Do you remember, way back in May, when I vowed to change my car’s air filter?  Probably not. It may seem like an odd promise to make to oneself. But I grow weary of having to depend on others for things. (Funny that this is a completely mercurial feeling. I have no issue with having people come mow my lawn and clean my gutters.)

Anyway. My promise. My dad told me I needed a new air filter; fine, I needed a new one. And I was going to change that air filter all by myself, because I am A Capable Woman who can choose to do a menial automotive repair anytime she likes.

The first hitch took place online, in my search for the air filter. My father had directed me to one specific filter, available on Amazon, but instead of buying it without asking questions, I clicked on some sort of link that said “is this the right air filter for your car?” or maybe I read a review of the filter excoriating the product based on the reviewer’s failure to determine whether it was the correct filter for his/her car.  However I got there, it seemed like the filter my father had recommended was not, in fact, appropriate for my car.

But then I couldn’t find the right one. I found something that SEEMED right. But my dad (the person with Actual Car Knowledge) was skeptical. And my car manual was NO HELP AT ALL. The only thing it had to offer was a single rather poorly-rendered drawing of the air filter with no specs or anything.

I was stumped.

My dad suggested that I go to my local auto parts store and ask someone there; they’d have some sort of computer database to consult. Which was a good suggestion. But I, Serious Introvert, would have preferred ordering my air filter online without ever having to interact with another human.

So I did nothing.

Time passed.

A couple of weeks ago, Carla and I went to buy new tires for my car. The tread was worn down to nearly nothing and it was time for new tires, and my local Tire Place had a good deal running. So we set out for an Exciting Excursion together and sat in the Tire Place waiting room while the tires were installed.

The Tire Guys – the two gentlemen working the front desk – were very, very nice. They seemed delighted by Carla, who is, objectively, delightful. They told us, proudly, that their waiting area had a large selection of toys and books. (I was glad I’d thought to bring my own books and a matching game for Carla AND my Lysol wipes because the entire waiting area, including the books and toys, was FILTHY. You have never seen a dirtier waiting area in all your life.) (They had a tiny coffee table in the center of the room, probably two feet by three feet, if that, and it took scrubbing roughly with FOUR antibacterial wipes to get it to a level of cleanliness that I was okay with.) They kept coming into the waiting area and offering us juice and water and coffee (the latter not directed to Carla), and one of them whisper-asked me if he could give Carla a yo-yo, and they just in general thought she was the bees knees.

When I was checking out, a process that seemed like Tire Guy had sent my credit card via courier turtle to the home office, I noticed that one of the services offered by the establishment was “change air filter.” So I asked if he could look up what kind of air filter my particular car required.

He looked at me curiously and said that no, he couldn’t. But there was an auto parts store right next door and they would be able to do it for me.

“We offer an air filter change service,” he noted. And I nodded.

“You’re just trying to save money?” he asked, implying that I should have just had them take care of it.

I could have said that I really wanted to do it myself. That I wanted the satisfaction of doing something on my own, of proving to myself that I could do it. But I didn’t know him, and he didn’t really care, and Carla was running back and forth across the showroom (is that what you call it, when what’s being “shown” is stacks of various brands of tires?) and flinging herself – with no regard for bodily safety – against one of two armchairs on the far side of the room, much to the consternation of the only other customer, who was sitting in the other armchair, so I simply nodded.

“Sometimes the auto parts guys will just put it in for you,” he mentioned in an offhand way, returning to whatever turtle coaxing he had to do to get my credit card processed.

I nodded politely. The checkout process dragged on interminably. I encouraged Carla to find an alternate way to amuse herself. She busied herself by climbing onto a very high stool and coloring in the book I’d brought her in the most precarious way possible.

Finally I signed my bill, collected my child, and left. We admired the new tires on my car, and then hoofed it over to the auto parts store which was, indeed, right next door. There, I purchased an air filter. We headed back to our car. Very easy.

As I buckled Carla into her car seat, the Tire Guy strode toward us.

“Did they have what you needed?” he asked. I nodded and smiled and thanked him for directing me to the auto parts store.

“We can put that in for you,” he said.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you!” I said, “but that’s not necessary!”

He ignored me and walked around the to the front door of my car, which he opened. He reached inside and pulled the lever to unlatch my hood. He opened the hood, looked inside at my engine, and then closed it without latching it. Then he grabbed my new air filter off of the passenger seat and opened the box, carrying it with him as he walked back toward the tire center.

“Pull it up here,” he called, pointing me toward the garage.

I laughed uncomfortably. But at this point, he had the air filter and… he was being kind, I thought. What was I supposed to do? Demand he hand it back to me?

I got in the car and drove into the garage. Carla caught on to my discomfort and asked what was happening, what were we doing? I told her that the man was being very nice and had offered to change our air filter to help us out. The Tire Guy handed our air filter over to a younger man – a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than twelve, although I am probably wrong – and went over to a desk on the side of the garage.

I unhooked Carla from her carseat and held her up as we watched the young man change the air filter. (Which is, in my car at least, the EASIEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. He literally unscrewed three or four screws, lifted off the filter cover, lifted out the old air filter, dropped the new filter in, replaced the cover, replaced the screws. I definitely could have done it myself.) Then I tipped the boy $5 and we were on our way.

The whole thing left me feeling so conflicted.

On the one hand, what an act of kindness! Generosity in action! Great customer service! What a thoughtful thing for the Tire Guy to do. It saved me time, it saved me money (probably; he asked what I paid for the air filter and shrugged and said he would have charged me $6 more to do the whole thing, so I came out $1 ahead). Maybe it was an act designed to give me warm fuzzy feelings about that tire center, and make it my tire center for life. Or maybe it wasn’t about me, at all, but about the Tire Guy: maybe I reminded him of his wife or sister or daughter or niece and he treated me with the same kindness he’d want for her; maybe he remembered what life was like with an active child Carla’s age and decided to spare me the time and exasperation of trying to make an automotive repair with her in tow; maybe he likes to do random acts of kindness; who knows?!

But I also felt… deflated, I guess, about not getting to do the thing I wanted to do myself. And anxious, because I was unsure how to assert myself in that situation. (Why did I get so flustered? I should have donned one of those breezy confident smiles of the kind that are so easy to imagine and so difficult to execute and said in a breezy confident voice, “Oh no thanks! I’ve got it under control!” Or “I’ll take care of it – thanks!” Or “no need! I’ve got it!”) And frustrated with myself, for not being able to assert myself and for feeling more concerned about a stranger’s feelings than my own. And worried about what that meant for what I was modeling for Carla. I also had an overall feeling of ickiness, that I wasn’t sure how to attribute. Was it a result of the combination of deflation, anxiety, and frustration? Or the nagging feeling that I’d just been “rescued” when… I was not in need of being rescued? (I mean, if my husband had been there instead of me… he almost certainly would have purchased the air filter and been on his way, right?)

Most of all, I felt confused about what impression the whole experience would leave on Carla. I don’t want her to feel like she has to depend on other people. But of course I want her to feel like she can. I want her to feel warmly about society, and community, and to grow up wanting to help others and to not be afraid to ask for help if she needs it.

And do I want to begrudge the tire center man his small act of generosity? Certainly not. Do I want other women, who might feel wholly, unadulteratedly grateful and relieved about this unexpected gift from the automotive gods, to feel guilty or ashamed for accepting this kind of help? HELL TO THE NO.

But I am also weary of this kind of thing – kind hearted, well-intentioned or not – that gradually chips away at a woman’s sense of capability, of strength, of self-worth. The automatic assumption that I would need or want help. I don’t want Carla to feel like she can pull a damsel in distress act anytime she feels like it and A Man will swoop in and save her. Moreso, I don’t want her to feel like that’s what she SHOULD do. That she shouldn’t try things, because men can do it better/more easily. (Is it different, that I let my father tell me when to get new tires and when to change my air filter? I hope it is. I hope that is the non-action of a lazy child rather than the helpless spinning of a delicate girl.)

Ugh. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. Am I doing that? Maybe that’s what I’m doing.

Would I feel the same sort of conflicted confusion if the whole situation were the same, but the Tire Guy had been a Tire Woman?

And I don’t want to see misogyny where there is (probably) only kindness. I mean, if the Tire Guy had been my dad, well, he might have done the same thing. (Or not. My dad at least would have walked me through how to do it myself, for next time. Possibly he would have even made me do it, while he stood there and offered instructions. I like to think he would have done the same for a stranger, too.) I don’t want to be so hyper-aware of potential discrimination that I find it in places where it isn’t. I don’t want to project bias onto situations where it isn’t.

But I can’t help feeling unsettled about the whole experience, including — maybe especially — my reaction.

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