Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy Birthday K16!

K16 in her "new" car - 2001 Cabrio GLS
 Birthdays are a big thing at our house.  I love to celebrate and have set the expectation that birthdays are a source of supreme celebration.  I try not to fall into the trap of creating perfect birthdays but rather I try to make a celebration that is centered totally on the birthday child.  They get to pick the theme, the food, the activities, and, to some degree, the gifts.  I always have final say but I really do want their day (and mine) to be about them.

As the kids have grown we've established some age expectations for birthdays.  On their ninth birthdays the girls can get their ears pierced.  S10 opted out of this tradition.  For their 10th birthday, we've done a special experience gift.  K16 & I flew to Chicago, had lunch at a fancy restaurant and saw Wicked on her 10th birthday.  Rob and I took H13 to the Indianapolis Zoo for her 10th birthdays.  She got to swim with the dolphins.  S10 went with his dad on a testosterone filled trip to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame and Cabella's.  Our two oldest children received cell phones on their twelfth birthdays.  And this year K turned 16.

Since she turned eight or so, we've been telling K that whatever money she saved for a car, up to $2500, we'd match when she was ready to get her first car.  We hoped that would encourage her to develop a saving strategy. We've told the same thing to each of our children.  Over the years it has become clear that K is not a saver and that the lure of matching funds is not a motivator for her.  As her sixteenth birthday drew closer, her dad and I agreed that we really wanted to buy her a car. 

There were several factors that made this decision that we really discussed.   First of all, we don't want our children to be spoiled.  While we can afford to give them things, we don't want to be "those parents" who gives their child everything and expects nothing.  Those parents end up with "those kids" that no one can stand to be around.  We don't want to give the impression that we spoil our children.  Unfortunately, there are some who view our parenting and judge us as lacking.  Buying our daughter a car is just going to strengthen that low opinion.   Making a decision based on the values we hold and the means that we have without bowing to the opinions of others is often difficult.

We were also aware that once we gave a car to K we set the expectation for our other three children.  Now, I know it doesn't have to be that way.  Buying a car for one doesn't mean we are required to buy cars for all four. Circumstances can change.  Just because we can afford to buy a car for K now doesn't mean we will be guaranteed to afford a car for M in eight years.  However, it would be very disappointing for all of us if we can't meet that expectation. 

Finally, was it the best choice for her?  Would she truly appreciate getting a car or would she just consider it her due?  Would a gift like this cause difficulty or bring joy?

As K's birthday approached we made our plans.  K and I discussed birthday wishes and she was nervous about having a party that didn't include/allow alcohol.  As a parent, it's frustrating that this is a concern my daughter has.  She didn't think her friends would want to come to a dry party.  Rather than watching her stress over whether or not her friends would come or what kind of party would be best, I took over the planning.  I contacted her favorite pizza place and scheduled a surprise birthday party there. We invited her friends by text and Facebook.  We kept it a secret, sort of.  She knew something was planned but she didn't know when. 

She had no clue about the car.  Rob and a friend spent several days driving to car lots to look at a variety of cars.  During that shopping Rob decided on the type of car he wanted for K, a Volkswagon Cabrio convertible.  The trick was finding one in our area, in our price range, in good shape, with decent mileage.  Finding this car was truly a miracle.  We found it on a dealer website about an hour and a half from our home.  The mileage was right.  The price was right.  The car was just what we were looking for.  We traveled to the lot praying that this would be the car.

When we arrived at the car dealership we realized that the car we had seen on the internet was not their normal listing.  This was a new car dealership.  The car we wanted to see was clearly not what they would normally be selling.  We pulled into the lot found the car and took a look.  It was a mess.  The dealer hadn't cleaned it at all.  In fact, it looked as if the window had been left down for awhile because the inside was kind of mildewed.  It was muddy.  In fact, it looked as if it might have been through a flood.  It was rough.

When a salesman came out to meet us, he acknowledged that the dealership really had no intention of selling this car.  He wasn't sure how it came to be listed on their website.  They were just holding it until it could be sent to a wholesaler for auction.  We asked to drive it anyway.  The battery was dead but jumped easily and we were off.  Right away, we could tell that there were exhaust issues.  A new muffler would be required.  Other than the loudness and a loosey-goosey gear shift, the car was great to drive.  It was small and zippy and a convertible.  Tons of fun!  It needed some work but overall it was in acceptable shape and the issues could be fixed.

We made a list of the things that would need to be fixed with the car.  Then we made an offer.  In short order, our offer was accepted and we were the owners of a 2001 Cabrio. 

Our first concern was getting the car cleaned.  Because of Rob's surgery he wasn't supposed to be driving.  I wasn't comfortable with him taking his first drive in a month against doctor's recommendations knowing that it would last over an hour.  We weren't ready to drive the car all the way home so we arranged with the dealership to have their detail people take our car and do their best with it.  We were hoping for a lot but not expecting much.  Our sales person promised to call us the next day as soon as the car was ready.

On the way home Rob called his doctor's office and asked if he could drive or if it was still unsafe.  He was given permission to drive.  By the time we arrived home we had talked with a friend who offered to go over the car and give it a final sprucing.  We had also made arrangements with our mechanic to take a look at the car to see what needed to be done to make the car safe and reliable. 

On Tuesday, August 28, we returned to the dealership to pick up her car.  We were amazed at how well it had cleaned up.  It looked like a different vehicle when we arrived to drive it home.  The mud and grime were gone.  The paint was shiny.  The interior was beautiful.  We were thrilled. 

The drive home just added to our satisfaction.  Putting the top down and soaking in the sunshine left us both knowing that we'd made a great choice. Our friend and our mechanic both reassured us that the car was a good one.  We could hardly wait to give the car to K.

On K's birthday, the surprise party was a huge success.  About 30 friends and family members joined us for pizza and an Avenger's birthday cake.  K was thrilled with all of it and didn't expect anything else.  As we pulled down the road to our house,  K could see lights that didn't really make sense.  Rob and several others had turned their vehicles so the headlights shown on K's new car.  It looked beautiful in the lights.  Sixteen pink balloons billowed out of the open convertible top.  As K got closer to the house she began to ask, "What is that?"  "WHAT is that?"  "WHAT IS THAT?"

As a parent,  it is a great feeling to make our child so happy.  I pray it will always be so simple to make her dreams come true.

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