It was a dark and stormy night. I had just made it back into Berthoud from the state track meet and thought I would make a quick stop at the local grocery store for my neglected, starving teenage son. When I left the track meet, I had to pee but didn’t want to use the bathroom at the stadium and thought, This ole nurse’s bladder can hold it for an hour until I get home. Also, I was pretty much starving too because I’m “thrifty” and wasn’t going to waste money at the concession stand when there’s perfectly good food at home. I could wait an hour for food.
Connor and I both had a long day on this unseasonal Colorado May day — temperatures in the 40s and rain — and my plan was to grab something quick to make for him after he got home. Already having driven 99.6% of the way, the plan was working out smoothly. Worn out, weary, and cold, I was anxious to get home and hunker down with my down blanket. Then, just as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, I noticed the flat tire and parked the Sequoia. It was 8:30pm, dark, cold, and misty.
What’s a girl to do in this situation? There were no men to help. My husband was out of town. My dad lives in Kansas. My ex-husband doesn’t like me. Small town cops were patrolling somewhere else. Maybe AAA would come rescue me. Does my auto insurance cover tragedies like this? 911 would probably be pissed if I called them…. For you women out there, here’s a four-minute video on a women’s guide to changing a tire in case you’re ever in the same conundrum. (By the way, this video is freaking hilarious and well worth the four minutes!)
Obviously, the answer is: go in and buy groceries, ignore the hunger pangs and ballooning bladder, and then change this damn tire. (Fair question you may be thinking: Why didn’t I just use the restroom and purchase a snack in the grocery store? Answer: I have no idea. That would have made a ton of sense. Can I pull the Woman Card here?)
My observations over the course of the next hour are what intrigue me.
Before I bought my first car, my dad made me go out in the driveway and learn how to change a tire. I assumed most parents did this, at least to some degree. My competence in changing a tire is due mostly to my dad, but also to dirt roads that led to my boyfriend-turned-ex-husband’s house in the country. There is no help out there. While I was in college, my dad opened an account for me at the local vehicle service station, and they came to recognize me easily by my red Pontiac Grand Am that seemed to forever be running on a donut spare. Experience is the best teacher, so I’m grateful for all those nails and isolated county roads.
Anyhow, I had no choice but to dig in. I would have to forego my relaxing night under a down blanket binge watching (ironically) “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu. So, I, in my dreadlock ponytails and Birkenstocks, dug out the tools as I texted Connor to let him know to come help me when his bus got back into town because it would be much easier with someone holding a flashlight. Oh, and also to get some of his own experience.
Before Connor arrived, two very kind men came to ask if they could help me. Politely, I declined their help. The first man reiterated that he was happy to stay and help because “that’s what men do.” What do they do? Rescue women? Do they go out of their ways to “do” this type of thing for everyone, or just women?
The second man asked twice after I declined his help, “Are you sure?” with such doubt in his voice. He seemed so entrenched in the idea of being a good Samaritan for a woman in despair that I let him loosen the lug nuts while I removed the spare tire and then sent him on his way. Besides, his wife was with him and wanted to talk child-rearing with me while she presumed I would have her husband finish the job. Bleh! He seemed genuinely incredulous when I thanked him, smiled, and took the tire iron from his hand reminding both of them that part of my child-rearing would be to have my teenage son come experience this tire change with me. In other words, I am capable of changing a tire AND rearing a child at the same time. Fancy that!
Connor arrived just in time to take over all the heavy work. Certainly I could push through and do it, but my back is trashed after 17 years of nursing so I was happy to have assistance. And out of my stubbornness to which my husband can attest, I probably would have pushed through, declining all offers of help. Connor, himself hungry and tired, was not amused by my musings of all the silver linings of the little pickle we were in, but he dug right in with me…like a good man would.
Connor and I were clearly doing just fine. I mean, Connor’s yearbook was filled with comments about being a Greek god so he’s fully capable of lifting a finger. Two more very kind men came to ask if we needed help. Politely, I declined their assistance. The first guy shrugged his shoulders like he couldn’t believe I declined his help and said with a sort of defiance in his voice, “Okay, I guess you know what you want.” What I want? Autonomy, mastery, purpose? What any human wants? Also, to pull down my britches to pee in the bushes and to devour a 16-ounce ribeye.
The second man started unsolicitedly explaining the next step in the tire change process when I looked up, pushed my blond hair out of my face smudging my forehead with grease (discovered later), and politely interrupted him to say assertively, “Thank you. We got this.” It seemed as though he didn’t believe a mother could be guiding her teenage son through this process.
Before I go any further, let me say I am grateful for any human who offers help to a fellow human. All four of these men were generous enough to offer their time and energy to my help my plight. But if I want to talk the talk of women’s empowerment, I better be able to walk the walk.
I have a few realistic questions in light of the current political zeitgeist. There are no correct answers and I’m not trying to prove anything. There are plenty of women who want nothing to do with changing their own tires (see blog photo), and there are more than plenty of times when I need various kinds of help from someone. Hopefully some thoughts are provoked with the following questions:
- Why didn’t any women ask if they could help me?
- Would a woman stop to ask a man if he could use some help changing a tire?
- Why did the only woman involved (passively) have only to discuss child-rearing with me?
- Would those same men have asked another man if they could help change his tire in the parking lot of a grocery store?
- If a man would have declined help, would the men who offered help have been so incredulous?
- As the good Samaritan, is there one kind of help that makes you feel better than a different kind of help? Perhaps helping a privileged woman versus a homeless man?
- If they were all so willing to help me, do they also offer that kind of help to someone who looks different (in any way)?
- Is “what men do” really so patronizing to assume that a woman couldn’t perform this routine action without male assistance? Isn’t this what women should do too?
- Do more women need to learn how to change tires? Or do more humans need to learn how to changes tires?
- Did my ice cream melt because I forgot I bought it?
I would have rather encountered polite humans (men or otherwise) who offered help like, “Are you good? Could you use a hand?” And when I politely declined, they would simply respond, “Cool. Have a great day!” Instead, it’s as each one of these men were in one form or another either slightly put off or in disbelief that a woman was turning them away. No means no. …Huh.
Humans helping humans in all kinds of circumstances…that’s humanity. What if we all just helped another fellow human not because of any particular qualifying reason, but because the same kinds of needs cross over any demographic category we can list?
And then my ice cream melted.