Yesterday was a milestone in our house, a rite of passage. Elsewhere in the country, there was an unimaginable tragedy.
For the last 2 weeks, I had been researching buying a vehicle for our 16-year-old daughter. Although she had been lamenting for months that she was perhaps the only 16-year-old in Johns Creek, GA without her own car, my husband and I held out. Neither of us had gotten our own cars until we were seniors in college, and we didn't feel a need to keep up with the Jones'. Nonetheless, in the last month or so, we'd decided to go ahead. Our daughter had worked so hard on her school work and was beginning to take part in more extracurricular activities. It just seemed like now was the time.
After conducting much research on "the best used cars for teenagers", we had finally zeroed in on a 2010 Hyundai Elantra. It had most of the bells and whistles that she wanted, was extremely safe, had good gas mileage, and was in our budget. It seemed like the perfect first car for a teenager… we didn't want her first car to be so souped-up that she would have nothing to look forward to. On Thursday, I had located the actual vehicle that we wanted to buy and had even test driven it… I was very impressed and ready to proceed. At this point, all we needed was to learn whether our daughter would be awarded a parking permit by her school for the spring semester. That decision would be announced Friday morning at the school.
Friday, December 14
At 8:24 Friday morning, I received a 3-word text from my daughter that would begin the process: "I GOT IT!" At 9:00, my husband contacted the general manager at the dealership to get the process rolling on buying the car. The manager was in a meeting and promised to call back shortly. According to their website, the price of the car had inexplicably dropped another $200 overnight, and we were concerned that at this price, it wouldn't last. He finally called back (around 9:30), only to give us news we didn't want to hear…the car had been sold the night before.
Rats!!!!!! It was time to start over. I guess we didn't need to buy a car that day… our daughter wasn't going to be able to park it in her school parking lot the following week anyway. Was it really necessary? Yes, we had the car bug and the irrational impulse within me said it was time to keep going.
Somewhere else in the country, a horror was beginning to unfold. We were so focused upon ourselves, we had no idea.
I started searching online and found another 2010 Hyundai Elantra at the "sister" location for this particular dealership. It had 6,000 fewer miles and cost more, but it was certified, had a clean Carfax report and the color our daughter preferred… silver. I contacted the dealership and after a conference call with my husband, the general manager agreed that I could come pick it up, drive it around, and bring it back later in the day with my daughter.
Heading Towards Destiny
Normally, I listen to CNN on XM when driving in my car. Today, I was so focused on the task at hand, that instead I wound up talking on the phone to my mom. I told her where I was heading, and we got the giggles over a huge coincidence… my mother's car lease was up and she was on her way to the dealership to get a new car as well. How funny, that grandmother and her oldest grandchild were likely getting new cars on the same day!
I arrived at the dealership, signed the paperwork and inspected the car. I was pleased with what I saw, and as I was getting ready to leave, my husband called. Would I be willing to drive the car to his office? His colleague, who works at Autotrader and was an expert on cars had agreed to inspect the car for us and tell us if the car had ever been in an accident (despite what the Carfax report said). I hopped in the car and headed towards his office.
Again, a strange coincidence kept me from hearing the terrible news of the day. Although this car had XM Satellite radio, it hadn't yet been activated. I spent the whole drive over to my husband's office, cursing how much I hated Atlanta radio stations. It seemed my choices were rap music, Christmas music, or hard rock. I dodged 18-wheelers and marveled at what great handling the car had. My husband's colleague inspected the car and was very impressed. He showed us that indeed, the car still had all of its original parts and he claimed that this was a female's car… you could see marks on the trunk where the owner had clearly been placing her purse. All cosmetic damage could easily be buffed out. He gave us his seal of approval. We were psyched!
The News Sinks In…
Half an hour later, I finally arrived home. I had one hour before I needed to pick up my daughter at school (a special treat… she couldn't wait to see the new car). I made myself some lunch, turned on an episode of "Walking Dead" on Netflix, and went on my computer to do a Facebook post for a client. While doing that post, I saw something strange appear in the ticker…
A friend of mine posted something about the NRA and "given the news of today, it's time to take a serious look at gun control." What the heck did that mean? I then clicked on my newsfeed and was shocked that almost all of my Facebook friends were talking about a tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut and innocent children dying. Finally, I switched over to CNN's website, only to learn of the horrific events which occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The facts were staggering… 27 dead, 20 were children. Very young children. I was struck cold.
I spent the rest of my time at home, learning as much as I could and letting the news sink in. It was almost too much to bear. How had I missed this story? Usually I'm so tuned into what's happening in the news, and yet on this day, I was so focused on my own life that I almost felt guilty for not paying attention to more important things.
TIme for Pick-Up
I finally left to pick up my daughter. This time, I listened to the AM radio stations and heard President Obama discussing the tragedy. He spoke, in halting terms, about all the milestones these children would miss… graduations, weddings, their own children. Suddenly I got chills thinking about 2 other milestones… their first car, and the milestone of buying their own child their first car. I was facing a milestone on this very day, and feeling terrible about all the families for whom these milestones wouldn't be possible.
When I arrived at my daughter's high school, all I wanted was to hug her. She was brimming with an innocent excitement, even after we discussed the shootings in Connecticut. When we finally got home (after I allowed her to test drive it, during which time she fell in love with the car), I pulled her into my arms for a long hug. Ironically, neither of us let go for a longer time than usual. It just felt so good to hold her, and realize how incredibly lucky I was that my child arrived home safely that day. And to know that we were on the brink of a milestone for our family too.
Although we were anxious to head out to the dealership to buy the car, I wanted my son to arrive home from school first. I stood in front of the house, waiting… something I don't normally do. As he walked up the driveway, he got excited when he saw his sister's new car and realized what was going to happen. Some kids would have been jealous of their older sibling, but my son was never like that. He was always genuinely happy for his sister's accomplishments and good fortune. I brought him into the house, told him about the shootings, and then I hugged him for a long time too. I just needed to see him and tell him how much I loved him before leaving with my daughter.
The End of a Long Day
I had warned my daughter that buying a car always took a few hours and she should be prepared. I tried to include her in the process, explaining what all the itemized costs meant on the invoice, as well as explaining that a few of the items still needed to be negotiated. She was horrified when I told her that if things didn't go our way, we would have to threaten to leave and I needed her to just get up and follow me out without complaint. She looked shocked and almost with tears in her eyes, she said, "But Mom, I REALLY want this car!" I told her not to worry, that it was simply a negotiating tactic. I wanted to educate her on the intricacies of being an adult, because I desperately want her to become an adult who will someday be teaching these same things to my grandchildren.
Fortunately, our negotiations went well and we didn't have to leave. Nearly 3 hours after leaving our house, we pulled away from the dealership… me in my car, and my teenager driving her own first vehicle. This time, I listened to CNN in my car and caught up on the news of the shooting. The details were simply unimaginable… I was caught up in the collective grief I know our country feels for this tiny Connecticut community.
And so I end this post, again feeling terribly sad for these children, these parents, this community. On the day when we reached a milestone in our house, perhaps a thousand other milestones were lost in this small town. My thoughts and prayers go out to Newtown, CT.