Why is it that my husband, who claims he can’t hear a child wailing in the middle of the night, in the very next room, is able to detect a tiny little sound coming from deep within a car engine? Maybe it has something to do with the way he can pick up the scores to college basketball games even when the sports announcer reads them really, really fast, but can’t comprehend when I say very slowly and clearly “Not tonight.”
“Can’t you hear that noise?” he demands. We’ve just wolfed down a pizza and jumped into the minivan – already late for the end-of-the-year parent-teacher conference at the middle school.
“You mean the bike helmets rolling around in the backseat?” I say, wiping tomato sauce off my lips and applying a more flattering shade of gloss.
“No, that rattling noise,” he says, as he presses on the accelerator.
“My teeth? My nerves?” I think, as we race for our 10-minute audience with our son’s teacher.
“Could it be the cans for recycling in the trunk?” I venture, as I pull down the visor mirror to pick a bit of basil off my bicuspids.
“No, it’s coming from the engine,” he says, squinting at the tachometer.
My husband rarely drives our minivan. When he does get behind the wheel, he notices every little thing.
“The front left tire looks low,” he reports. “The rear window needs a new wiper blade. … How did the door get scratched?”
All of these observations, from a guy who doesn’t blink when I change my hair color.
“Listen … hear it?” he asks.
I listen, I really do. But all I hear is my stomach rumbling. I think I ate too fast.
Although I spend about a third of my life in the minivan – dropping my kids off at play practice, guitar lessons, soccer scrimmages and their friends’ houses or waiting to pick them up at play practice, guitar lessons, soccer scrimmages and their friends’ houses – I spend very little time thinking about how the van works … until it doesn’t. I put the key into the ignition, press on the gas and it moves forward – that’s all I expect. Between threatening 11-year-old boys who throw Cheez-Its and wrestle instead of putting on their seat belts, waving off the advances of a dog who breathes in my ear like an obscene phone caller and dealing with my daughter who changes the radio station whenever I start to sing, I am frankly more concerned about bloodshed in the backseat than whether or not the motor is misfiring. With all the noise that’s inside the car, I’m blissfully unaware of the fan belt – although I can usually feel my sanity slipping.
But tonight, on the road to the school, it’s just the two of us. It’s quiet and, dare I say, almost romantic.
“Do you have any gum?” I ask my husband, as he pulls into the school parking lot. “I’ve got garlic breath.”
“You really can’t hear that cha-chink it makes when I give it gas?” he says, ignoring my obvious advances.
“I’m not sure,” I falter. “But I think I’ve got gas.”
He turns and looks at me with a serious expression. “Well, let’s get it looked at and taken care of as soon as possible.”
“Oh, honey, I don’t think that’s really necessary. I’ll be alright. It was just the pizza,” I say, touched by his compassion.
“I was talking about the car,” he replies.
“What about it?”
“There’s a noise coming from the engine!” he fumes.
“Really? I don’t hear anything.”