This week I spent some time getting new brake pads and rotors for the car. The friendly guy at the desk juggled all of the customers with the skill of one who deals with the general public all day long. He spoke of estimates and appointments and warranties, calling us back one by one.
When it was my turn, he pulled me into the garage where my car was up on the lift, tires pulled off. I was thinking sure, you can show me, but I’m still not going to understand what needs to be done.
He showed me what used to be the brake pad on my car, worn down to a parallelogram of dark gray metal. Then he pulled from his pocket a new brake pad, so I’d know what it was supposed to look like.
He had me run my fingers in the should-be-smooth rotor so I could feel the grooves in it. He explained that resurfacing them would be a cheaper, temporary fix. He said the grooves would make the brakes shakey or squeaky — not really dangerous — but that they’d need to be replaced within months.
After he believed in my ability to understand, I actually did get it. I understood what needed to be done.
I consented to the work and was relieved thinking I can now believe in the brakes on this car that my newly 16-year-old is going to be driving, the car that my daughter drove until recently. I believed in the guys who know how to fix brakes and rotors, trusting them to road-ready my car.
I returned to the small lobby, where there was a young woman in a blue sweatshirt embroidered with various birds on it. Somehow the topic of parenting came up while we waited for our brakes to be fixed.
She told me how she was kicked out of her house at age 17 and how in some families (presumably hers), it feels like the adults believe in one child but not the other. She said she didn’t feel supported growing up and that “these kids today just need someone to believe in them, even when it’s hard.”
She told me all about her daughter, how she’s in a new school and learning to read. She told me she lives in low-income housing and that she sometimes has to step in and parent the kids in her complex, like the boy who pulled all her tomatoes off the vine and squished them. She expressed gratitude for the parenting classes she was required to take.
She told me she is learning to be a parent. I told her I am, too.
The guy doing my brakes is confident in his work. He pointed to parts of the car that I have never heard of, explaining that “this this and this needs to be done but this doesn’t.” But as much as he knows about brakes, I bet there are times he has to research the answer to a question or ask for help.
Because of the parenting I had growing up, I feel like I have a good foundation from which to build my own parenting skills. Because I’m a pediatrician, I talk about parenting almost every day and see many different styles of parenting. Even so, at least once a week I have to reach out to my network because I don’t know what I’m doing with my kids.
This young woman is trying to break cycles for her own daughter. She’s trying to do right by her child. I’m not sure what support network she has in place after our 30-minute conversation. But I’m glad she was put in my path. Just like the guy fixing my brakes taught me, she taught me, too.
When she said, “these kids today just need someone to believe in them, even when it’s hard,” it reminded me that maybe I take for granted having always had people believing in me.
It made me think we all need to believe in each other as we parent. And reach out a hand to those parents who need someone to believe in them, too. We all have something to learn, and something to teach.
Across the waiting room was a grandmother sitting with a young toddler on her lap. He wore a navy shirt with an excavator on it and black toddler adidas shoes. He was playing nursery rhymes on her phone, a transformer in one hand and a ninja turtle in the other.
He watched “ABCs” and “Hickory Dickory Dock” in silence. But when “Skidamarink a dink a dink, skidamarink a doo” came on, he turned around and beamed at his grandmother. When it got to the part that said “I love youuuuuu,” he sang at the top of his lungs, and she sang the same in his ear.
I was grateful that someone is giving him the foundation of her lap and the gift of singing “I love you” in his ear. It was clear to me that this grandmother believes in her grandson.
The young woman in the bird sweatshirt stood up, her brakes newly padded up and ready to face the Houston freeways. I thought to myself that I hope she can believe in herself and her parenting. She turned around with a smile and told me to “be blessed.”
And I was.