Any minute, the Less Wiggy One (he’s had a haircut) will be eligible to start driving, and having spent today driving what amounts to a stick shift Go Cart with the steering wheel on the wrong side around the back roads of Gloucestershire with him making helpful comments, I’m almost excited. In an effort (and believe me, it’s always an effort) to be a good parent, I thought it would be useful for him to learn to put fuel in the car, and this seemed the perfect time. However, despite ten successful years teaching critical thinking to mature students, I am not as skilled at imparting international driving knowledge to the male adolescent. He only asked two questions:
“How much do you want me to put in?”
“Fill up the tank.”
“How do I know when to stop?”
“It clicks off automatically” I replied.
“Oh. This is quite boring, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you need to know how to do it”
Cue eye roll from the LWO. And then a click as the pump clicked off. At this point, the age differentiated reaction time equation kicked in – causing him to remove the the nozzle before I had a chance to tell him to let the remaining fuel drain out of the hose. I watched as a trickle of fuel dribbled out and down the side of the car which quickly morphed into abject horror as a jet of petrol shot from the nozzle, hit the side of the car at high speed, and ricocheted back to coat us both liberally.
In his world, it was obviously my fault. I had neglected to tell him that although the feed does shut off automatically, if you maintain a death grip on the lever as you withdraw the nozzle, the flow does in fact restart at considerable speed and turns anyone unlucky enough to be in a six foot radius into a greasy smudge. And when your grip is honed by 9 months of intensive weight training to play football (American style), the fuel reaches maximum velocity pretty swiftly.
Having resigned myself to paying out both for the fuel in the tank and coating our clothing, we then spent the rest of the 40 minute drive nursing headaches and impending hypothermia from the rain and wind blowing in though the open windows, while the Feisty One sat in the back getting greener by the minute. I took the opportunity to explain how it is in fact the vapor that is flammable, so the use of mobile phones, cellular devices or the cigarette lighter was strictly forbidden for the remainder of the trip. In an attempt at addressing a safety moment, I made the mistake of also ruminating on exactly how long the aftereffects of our little peccadillo would last in terms of flammability, with the words “I wonder how long your trousers would burn if we set them on fire now”.
Admittedly, it was unfortunate phrasing of a purely hypothetical question, but that has not stopped him from repeating to anyone standing still long enough that his mother not only failed to ensure his safety with harmful substances, but also wanted to set fire to her only son. My status as a Bad Mother has now reached global proportions.
However, we have both learned something. He has learned the rudiments of safely refueling a vehicle, and I have learned that there is no way on God’s earth that I am teaching him to drive.