This is Why We Can’t Do Nice Things

On Friday Cute W had a plan to go play games at a friend’s, so when I heard that Kirsten Gillibrand would be speaking in town, I thought it would make an excellent girls’ outing.

She was speaking as part of the New York State Writers Institute series, a series I have never, ever attended. I know what you’re all thinking, “What? Katie, how is it possible that you’ve never gone to anything by the New York State Writers Institute? Don’t you like to consider yourself a writer, even though you’ve frankly been doing a terrible job of it lately? Don’t you drive for hours upon hours to get to the Savannah Book Festival (over and over again) and then talk about how wonderful it is? And yet you won’t schlep 20 minutes to free events with esteemed writers in your own area? Hmmph!”


I know y’all. . . you’re totally right.

So Kirsten was speaking at 7:30 pm and M had a haircut scheduled for 5:15 pm, and I was a bit fretful about getting ourselves there on time. The event was at the U Albany downtown campus, which I’d never visited, and as you know, I hate driving and I have zero sense of direction. So I was tense about driving there, finding our way, navigating from the parking lot to the event space, and getting a seat at a free event with our popular senator. Umm. . .  I totally didn’t need to be tense about any of that. It was practically the same as driving to Cute W’s office, there was an obvious stream of Writers Institute attendees walking from the parking lot to the hall, and the hall itself never filled up. I am an anxious freak.

But I know that in retrospect. At the time, my plan was to leave shortly after M left the salon and stop by Subway to pick up sandwiches for dinner that the girls could eat while I drove. We loaded  into the car slightly later than I had planned because that is how we roll. Then M said, “Wait, I want to synch my phone up with the car.” The car has Bluetooth, but lately it hadn’t been recognizing M’s phone, probably because we recently replaced the phone itself. Technology is moving so fast these days that my not-very-old car is already seeming outdated in how it gets synched to phones. You can’t really skip forward easily, and instead, the little computer-lady voice slowly outlines your options before slowly asking you to say an option. And this time it wasn’t recognizing us saying “M’s iPhone,” so that was pretty frustrating. To make it even more annoying, one of our official phone options is an iPhone that belongs to one of the Spanish students who stayed with us — I had synched her up so that a crew of them could crank up Spanish tunes while I was carpooling– and the computer-lady voice completely mangles the pronunciation of her name. Slowly. And I know, I know, I can get that phone removed as an option, but I haven’t gotten around to it. So we were in the driveway struggling with this.

Oh! And for additional context, you need to understand something else that’s happening with my car lately. Really, in most every way I really l like our car, which is a Nissan Rogue. It’s great in the snow, and it can seat 7 in a pinch even though it’s not huge. . . just generally, I like it very much. But. Beyond the slow-synching computer-lady Bluetooth, there is one super-annoying thing that happens with this car. The seat belts don’t do a great job of retracting, and so it’s really easy to get out of the car and accidentally slam the door on the seat belt. The problem is that if you do that enough times, it damages the interior of the door, and then the “open door” light will come on, say, if you turn to the right and the momentum tugs the driver’s door just slightly away from the sensor. Okay. So, this started happening maybe a year or two ago, and I took it to the dealership and I guess they basically just hammered the metal back into place, charging me hundreds of dollars in the process, and it was fixed for a while. And I tried to be very careful about ensuring that I don’t slam the seat belt in the door, which is especially a hazard in the winter, when I’m bundled in a big, bulky coat that pulls the seat belt out farther than usual. And I am mostly very good at checking the seat belt and fixing it, but if you are getting in and out of the car 7 or 8 times a day and you remember to check it 6 or 7 times, there is still some seat belt slamming happening. Recently the door open thing has been happening again, and not just for the occasional right turn, but almost constantly. And if it were just some sensor light coming on, that would be okay, but instead, every time it happens, all the car doors loudly unlock and the interior lights turn on, and then when it either re-closes or I pull it closed, all the doors (loudly) re-lock and the lights turn out again. It is freakin’ annoying. Not just because it’s plain old annoying, but it’s like every time it happens I am kicking myself for not being more careful about the seat belts, but then I become enraged because I shouldn’t have to think so hard about the seat belts so, and at some point I will probably have to get it fixed again, and it is a vicious cycle of feeling stupid, then enraged, then resigned.

Okay, back to the driveway on Friday night. I was getting more and more tense, and finally M said, “Forget it, let’s just listen to the radio.” I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes the kids will ask for help with some problem, and in the middle of starting to fix the problem, the kid loses patience and wants you to stop, and you’re like, “but I’m right on the verge of a breakthrough here,” and the kids are like, “stop-please-stop-I-don’t-even-care-anymore,” but now their problem has become your problem? I think that this must happen to other people, because I distinctly remember sitting in front of math homework while my dad would try to figure it out to explain it to me, and I’d be thinking, “Can’t I please give up and go watch TV now?”

The point is, moments later I was screeching out of the driveway well behind schedule with the (stupid, stupid) radio playing and the doors locking and unlocking and the interior lights flashing as I drove, and I was thinking that we were so behind I wasn’t sure if we could stop for food. “I don’t even want a sandwich,” M snapped. I asked J, and she said, “I can do whatever,” and this made both her mother and her sister feel like smacking her, because she doesn’t express opinions and says she’ll do whatever all the time, and so M said something like, “Could you please, ever, just answer the question!?!” And then J said that she literally wanted to choose whatever option would make everyone not at each other’s throats. And also M said, could I please not “drive angry” because my rapid acceleration and less-smooth-than-usual braking was painful to her (currently injured) knee? Because, you know, she’s a permitted driver now, so she has become an expert on driving. And I believe that I snapped that it is difficult not to “drive angry” when you are driving at the same time that you are so damn angry, and M said, “I can do it, and I don’t even have my license yet,” and J said, “When we were little you never swore. . . I liked it better when you never swore” and that is when I pulled over to the side of the road and said, “Forget it. Let’s not even go.”

And that is how I ruined our girls’ night out before it even started.

Well, okay, it seemed ruined at the time, but in reality we forged ahead, like we do. The girls said please, please let’s just go. I told them that I think I am extraordinarily patient and kind with them when they are acting pissy with me about forces beyond my control, and I would like them to extend some of that same patience and grace to me during the very rare occasions when I am struggling with a bad mood. Then J asked what I was in such a bad mood about, and I explained that I was tense about driving and navigating and such, and these girls know full well that I can manage to get lost even in my own neighborhood, so it made sense to them. And within about a mile, M decided to regale us with “the latest track drama,” and we recovered our equilibrium. And luckily when you’re just driving straight forward on the highway, the door sensors don’t complain much.

Now that I’ve actually (finally) attended a New York State Writers Institute event, I’ll definitely go to more in the future. It was very easy. I was a little bummed out that Senator Gillibrand wasn’t doing a signing/meet-and-greet at the end, but we really enjoyed her talk.

She started out by telling us about her new book, Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote.

Of course this is a topic close to our hearts (as you know), so that was interesting in fun. She told us a bit about each woman, and she had slides of the book itself, so we could see the illustration and she pointed out little details, like her two sons portrayed in the modern marchers image at the end of the book. Then there was a bit of Q&A on stage, in which a highlight was when the interviewer said something along the lines of, “Of course, what everyone’s wondering, and what I’m sure you get asked about all the time, even people stopping you on the street to ask, is . . . what are you going to write next?” Hardy, har, har. She said she likes writing the children’s book, and she’s having fun visiting schools — I found out later that she just visited the other middle school in our district (is she coming to mine?” J asked. I have no idea). Then there was a bit of time for audience questions, which started out a little rough, with people doing that thing where they just talk about themselves and their thoughts and feelings instead of asking a question, but it eventually settled down. And the last question of the night was about running for the presidency, and she definitely didn’t say no. Instead, she said something about how she wants to do whatever is going to be most effective in combating the direction the country’s been going in, and she’s not sure if that would be as a senator or as a candidate, but she feels morally obligated to do whatever she can, and she’s been talking with her family about it. Hmm.

We were all happy that we’d come to the talk, but as you may have guessed, by the end we were super-starving. M Yelped for a place to eat (chip off the ol’ block) and we headed to Sweet Basil for Thai, but even though they’re officially open until 10 pm, they only do take-out orders after 9 pm. Crap. Not only were we hungry and tired, but it was super-cold, and poor M was basically limping. Luckily New World Bistro Bar was still hoppin’,  so we were able to scoot in there without getting back into the car. We started with the Piggy Nachos, and that single plate filled us up, which is good because the girls were less enthusiastic with the two entrees we got to share, the No Crash Brown Rice Risotto and the Thai-Italian Love Panang Curry Bolognese. I had clearly miscalculated with our order, because by the time they got set in front of us, the girls were stuffed and ready just to go to bed.

Still, after an inauspicious beginning, we managed to salvage a decent night out.

Oh, and I think that I may have conquered this door issue with a little DIY magic (knock on wood).


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