In a fit of spontaneity, I decided to take the kids to Austin for a week while Hubs was away at a conference for federal prosecutors in Dallas. It’s actually pretty difficult to be spontaneous as a parent, what with all the gear and planning involved in the care and feeding of two small children, but once my parents offered to stay in Austin a few extra days to host us, I was determined.
The principal was notified the kids would be absent, the snacks and small toys for the journey were packed, the laundry was clean and folded, the last-minute errands completed. The plan was to leave the house between 7:30 and 8:30am, and we pulled out of the driveway at 8 on the dot. I had checked all my lists and was confident in my ability to handle two kids for an eight hour drive (not including breaks for meals and diaper changes).
Within thirty minutes, Archer was snoring in his car seat as we whizzed down I-10, but Jackson was notably vocal.
“Why is it taking sooo looong to get to Nana and Baba’s house?”
“…we just passed Daddy’s office.”
Jackson can remember how many buoys he saw on Lake Redstone last summer, but he had already forgotten how long it took to drive to Austin and back in February. After over two hours of steady complaining and testy questions about things he saw out the window (“what’s that?” “What’s what?” “Ugghhh THAT!” ???) we were an hour from our first stop: lunch in Fort Stockton, and I began the countdown. “Don’t worry, sweetie! Only fifty-eight minutes until chicken nuggets.”
The light that indicates low tire pressure flickered on my dashboard, and I knew we were miles from anyplace to stop and check the pressure, so I tried to ignore it. And then rrrrrrrrrippp! followed by the ear-splitting sound of metal on pavement and a jolt to the left. I pulled over quickly onto the mercifully wide shoulder and took a deep breath.
I have been a parent for three and a half years now, so I have had ample time to practice the restraint required to keep from swearing in front of my children. All my training had been leading up to this moment. “Okay, we have had a small emergency, and now Mommy is going to call someone to help. Everything is fine, and we are safe, but we have a flat tire, and we need someone to fix it.”
In between passing semi-trucks, I leaned out the window to assess the damage, and it wasn’t pretty. The tire and ripped all the way around, and I didn’t even know for sure if my van had a spare because we hadn’t had it long. I called the roadside assistance my insurance offers and the call was dropped four times before I got far enough for a real human to talk to me and promise to call me back if I was cut off again. The cell service in the desert is as plentiful as the water supply.
The nice lady found our location with my pitiful description of our journey and signs I had recently seen, and assistance was on the way, but it could take an hour. By this time, Archer had woken up and was lodging a complaint about our lack of forward progress. I decided we should get comfortable, so we broke out some snacks and crawled around the car. Though my vehicle had just flung us off our charted path with an exploding tire, I was extremely grateful I had gotten an enormous van. There is no other vehicle in which I could squeeze myself from front seat to back seat without having to open my door into traffic.
The kids were actually pretty excited about our little adventure, and had a blast pushing all the buttons and switches in the front seat and climbing into spaces otherwise off limits. Our roadside assistance prayers were answered within forty minutes, and watching the nice man select tools and search for our spare tire occupied the kids for a little while. I assumed the tire was in a secret compartment in the trunk, but it’s actually bolted underneath the middle of the car, which proved tricky for our one-man rescue team. And then there was more bad news: we didn’t have a full-sized spare, it was just a doughnut, so we’d need a new tire in an hour.
After much finagling, the doughnut was attached, and our ruined tire was tossed in the trunk on top of our belongings for the week. The car smelled like burning rubber, and I knew our bags were getting dirty, but at least we could get off the highway shoulder and keep moving. An hour later, we were in Fort Stockton searching for a new tire. The locals did their best to accommodate us and help us get on our way, but by the time we got a new tire and re-positioned our spare, we’d added three hours to our journey. Jackson wanted to press on, but Archer and I were hungry, so we headed for the Golden Arches to eat our feelings and stretch our legs in the play area.
Back in the car with full bellies, the kids were pretty sedate for a while, with Jackson peppering me with questions and Archer snoring on and off. About forty minutes outside Junction (which is over three hours from my parents’ house), Archer let it be known that he was no longer enjoying this adventure, and would like to please get out of the car and eat more chicken nuggets. I choose to believe that’s what he meant, instead of just screaming baby swear words at me in gibberish. We stopped in Junction at yet another McDonald’s (not a good
day for my arteries, to be sure), where the boys seemed to perk up and enjoy climbing around the booth. I chose McD’s because I assumed there would be a play area for my cooped-up kids, but alas, no such luck. I let them goof around in the booth for as long as I could, grabbed a coffee at the adjoining gas station, and loaded everyone back in the car.
It was almost bedtime, so I thought the kids would sleep the rest of the way, but Archer sang to himself for a while, and Jackson chatted with me the last three-hour leg of the journey. I was on high alert, because driving through hill country at dusk means watching carefully for deer at every turn, and we saw a huge number before the sun went down. Having entered more fertile territory, we saw a lot of wildlife, like goats, cows, and rabbits, and that gave us a lot to talk about.
I had been short with Jackson when he badgered me about the timeline for our trip that morning, but he really handled the day with patience I didn’t know he possessed. We arrived at Nana and Baba’s house twelve hours and forty-five minutes after setting out from El Paso, and he spent the last few hours calmly asking thoughtful questions, going over the events of the day, and talking about what he hoped to do while we were in town. He is three and a half, and was less cranky by the end of the day than most adults would have been. Archer was also resilient in the face of hours of restraint and few snacks or distractions, and our day could have gone much, much worse. We managed to stay on the road when the tire blew, and there were no other cars immediately near us, making it easy to slow down and pull over onto an ample shoulder. My phone service held out just long enough to call for help, and our assistance arrived ahead of schedule. And, the big tire store in a tiny town had a tire that would get us to Austin safe and sound.
We staggered into the house, dumped our belongings in the kitchen, and celebrated with a round of hugs. It was late, and we all needed to recharge. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of my mom preparing banana chocolate chip pancakes for Jackson, and when I walked into the kitchen she gave me a tight squeeze and said, “you are so thoughtful, and so generous!” I thought it was a little early for her to be nipping at the cooking sherry, but then she pointed at a jar on the windowsill. “Please, next time you visit, just bring wine.” Inside the jar was a very angry scorpion that had somehow hitched a ride on our belongings while stranded in the desert. I suspect he crawled into our flayed tire, which was tossed into our trunk, and clung to our bags that we dropped in the kitchen, which is how he ended up on Mom’s stove. Mom has not had recent practice withholding profanity, and the unholy vocabulary that escaped when she saw her new pet was something to behold, but luckily the kids were out of earshot.
Hopefully the return trip will be less exciting.