Changing the Oil

It's the other night, just before dinner, and I'm laid out. Looking up at a plastic shroud six inches from my face I'm pondering why I don't jack up the car higher. The oil filter is on too tight so I can't turn it by hand, and the steel cap I bought to loosen a too-tight oil filter fits too flush to get the ratchet stub in its hole, and too loosely if I put it on the ratchet prior to cupping it over the filter. This is like a cruel, sadistic game of whack-a-mole. It's unclear how the filter got screwed on so tightly in the first place, but now I'm playing chicken with the half-in ratchet nubbin. I'm desperately trying to apply rotational force to something that doesn't want to be removed while quaking in anticipation of the inevitable moment when the ratchet violently slips out of the cap and I obliterate my knuckles on the car's undersidey parts.

The faint smell of rosemary through the door to the kitchen tells me I'm running out of time.

"Dad, I got it."

Wait, what am I doing? I inchworm out from under my son's car, put the ratchet in his outstretched hand, and go back inside to finish setting the table.

The urge to be helpful robs my loved ones of their autonomy, chapter 516.

As a child of the 80's, my parents seldom knew what I was up to. It's strange, then, that as a parent I regularly attach myself to the activities and struggles of my children. My son knows how to change his oil. He's no mechanic, but he's done it a few times before and his car has yet to explode on the way to Chipotle.

So why am I squashed under his car that he didn't jack up high enough, peering out at his impatiently tapping foot?

The answer is probably a mix of genuinely wanting to help and a deep aversion to mistakes. That's the sweet version. A cynical eye might spot that it has just as much to do with signaling to others that I know things. The bottom line is it feels good to answer questions correctly and it feels bad to get called on in school when you didn't study. And I got called on a lot. So does this mean the constant need to be perceived as smart or knowledgeable stems from getting caught avoiding responsibility in my youth?

The irrelevance of that question floats around in my brain as I sit down late for dinner. Poking at my broccoli I remember I learned most of what I know through trial and error and asking for help when needed. It's time to extend that courtesy to everyone else.