How To Check the Oil In Your Mother’s Car

I am in fifth grade, and I have just changed schools.  This is where I will first form my belief that some schools are just not meant for some children, because I come from a place where no one likes me and I am the least popular kid in my class.  We eat hot lunch every day in the high school cafeteria, and I always have soup and a roll, but because I am tiny and we are in a high school lunch line, I have to ask the taller girls to hand me a roll, and after awhile, they simply sneer and refuse.  And so I come from a million tiny experiences like this to a school where everyone likes me, where people compliment the new dress my grandmother made me when I wear it to free dress day, where I am voted some kind of fall princess or mary princess or something a few weeks after I arrive.  This is a school where I feel liked, because I am liked.  It is a wonderful feeling.  It feels like taking a deep breath after years of being horrified by my own existence.

In fifth grade at my new school we all take speech class, and one of the first ones we learn is the demonstration speech.  My mother delights in this, and she is thrilled when she hears that someone did a speech on how to eat an oreo cookie and someone else did a speech on how to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.  I can only assume her competitive nature kicks in or maybe she just thought it would be a good idea, but she “suggests” that I do my demonstration speech on how to check the oil in a car.

I am amenable to this, it seems like fun, and I am proud of my mother’s car, a brand new red and tan Toyota Tercel.  And I do know how to check the oil, and my whole class will get to go outside, and besides, I have other things to worry about, because despite my new found popularity and the accepting nature of my fifth grade compatriots, there are some things that the market simply will not bear, and so I spend all my spare time and the time before I fall asleep figuring out and practicing and scheming.  I need a plan, because more than anything, I know it is of utmost importance that I do not, under any circumstances, use the word “dipstick” in front of my entire fifth grade class.

The day arrives, my mother drives the car to school, and we all troop outside.  I am ready with my paper towels and my plan and I prop up the hood of the car and I go through all the steps and wipe and recheck and then my pulse quickens as I near the end because things are working out perfectly, and then I am done, and I cannot believe it but I have pulled it off.  I have made it through the whole speech and the oil has been checked and I even got a laugh when I told everyone not to use cooking oil in a pinch and there has been nary a mention of dips or sticks.

AND THEN.  And then.  A voice pipes up from the back, loud and clear, and it MY MOTHER, of course.  Of course.  And then she is saying “Now Elizabeth.  What is it called, what you use to check the oil?” and she is saying this in the loudest voice history has ever known, and right in front of my whole entire fifth grade class which might as well be the assembled masses of the free world, I have no choice. I can think of no other recourse.  Probably I should have just run, but instead I grit my teeth and I say it.  I say “This. is. called. the. dipstick.”

It may surprise you to learn that life did move one, but I can’t lie, a part of me will always be in that moment, almost done, almost pulling it off, and then my mother opening her mouth, and me knowing, in that instant, somehow, just what she’s going to say, and I have forgiven my mother for many many things, but I can tell you with much honesty, I may never let this go.  I may never forgive her for the dipstick.  And you know what?  I kind of don’t think I should.

P.S. Katherine will be doing her fifth grade demonstration speech on how to eat an Oreo cookie, obviously.


11 Responses

  1. Did I tell you about my students’ how-to speeches last week? A girl taught the class how to imitate handwriting. It was…weird.

    I do, however, like this story. Pants needs to do his speech on something battery-related, obvs.

  2. I don’t know…”Then you lick the cream” might just be as horrifying.

  3. How do I not remember ANY of this? I know I did a demonstration speech in 6th grade, I think, on how to prepare peppermint candies, and you helped me prepare said candies. I think. But this memory? Of the dipstick? Nope! Maybe it was before we forgot our gym clothes, eh?

  4. This story hurts me. It is almost physically painful to me when a parent publicly embarrasses their child.

    I didn’t graduate from high school (I’ll spare you the boring details) and so a close friend of mine threw a surprise graduation party for me and another girl my age who wasn’t walking for other unmemorable reasons. He’d asked the parents to give little fun speeches and my parents gave funny cute ones that made me laugh and cry.

    And then.

    The other girl’s mom got up there and told a story about how when this girl was a toddler, she was in the bathroom while her dad was showering and when he got out of the shower, she bit his, um, unmentionables.

    Can you imagine if that story was told in front of an entire room of your friends? At seventeen? I wanted to die for her.

  5. I remember those! But ours were in the 6th grade- I demonstrated making origami stars. Another classmate made cinnamon toast. Another made Chinese chicken salad. Demonstration speech = deliciousness, obvi.

  6. This story cracks me up, not because you were embarrassed by your mother of course, but just the way you told it made me laugh (and it was a much-needed laugh today…so thanks!).

  7. This is so well-told – I FEEL like I’m in fifth grade and how the weight of the entire world rests on not making a fool out of yourself.

    I am shocked – SHOCKED – that so many people make it out of the dog-eat-dog jungle of elementary school without requiring institutionalization. It is ROUGH.

  8. Love this!!! My mom made me crazy for years and I am so afraid that I am going to do the same to my daughter

  9. She must’ve been momentarily possessed by a truly evil demon!

    I know exactly what you mean about schools. From K to the first half of Grade 1, I was in a school I hated – and I can’t remember or even articulate why. I always had an upset stomach. And my folks took me to the doctor because I had pains in my arms, which the dr figured was from stress!

    Then my dad got a different job, and we moved away to a small town 100 miles north, and my life improved a thousandfold. The new school was totally different somehow. Wonderful. And I’m still all these years later friends with a bunch of the people in my class.

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