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Parenting In A Small Town With No Car

Now that my kids are grown, I forgive myself for all the taxi rides and the snow storms and the melted butterscotch ripple.

When I first left my husband I started out strong, car-wise. I had a new Mazda minivan, black and in my opinion quite sleek as far as these things go. For about six weeks I drove my kids and I around in our new life, running them to school and to the park and to the movies like this would always be the way.

He took it back, though, once he knew we had gone for good. I was so mad at the time but I know now I could not have afforded such a thing as a brand new minivan. The gas, the payments, the snow tires. So I pulled two car seats out of the back and the diaper bag and said goodbye to our shiny minivan, and car ownership altogether. Funny, I figured it was just for a bit. Six months maybe. It was years. Almost our whole time together.

Even when we did have a car it was someone’s castoff that was certified with a wink and a nod under the table which is to say that no one made sure it was safe at all. A minivan bought from my boss for $1500 with a broken driver’s seat laid out so flat I needed three pillows to sit up straight. A broken side door that would slide open when we drove up a hill and my son would call out all nonchalant from his booster seat, “Mom. Door,” and I would slam on my brakes to close it again. A bungee cord helped sometimes but not always. One car leaked oil constantly, another had some sort of catastrophic meltdown on the highway, leaving us stranded for hours. I couldn’t get it right with cars, couldn’t trust my instincts. I would stare at the person selling me their car from their farm driveway or a restaurant parking lot and beg them with my eyes to please, please, this time please sell me a good car and they answered back all innocent with their eyes, oh don’t worry, it’s been perfect for me. I always figured that, like everything, it was my own fault.

I told myself it would be easier not to have a car but this was another lie, from me to me. Living in a small town does not make going car-free easier, it is extra awful. We had to take taxis to school a lot in the winter when the snow was too high for my double stroller and my older boys hated it. Would beg to be let out around the corner where they would fling their bodies out of the third row seat of the special taxi vans that would accommodate all of us and refuse to say goodbye. Terrified of being seen. “Oh they need to get over it,” is something you might say but now I want you to think about being a new kid at a new school with shoes and a haircut that was only right for your old school being dropped off in a taxi and then get back to me. It was pure rotten for them.

We got rides from friends and family as the years went on, to the grocery store, to school, one time to the beach in a friend’s eight-seater minivan with the windows down and we were all so quiet inside ourselves that day. Wanting to take it all in, the sun, the freedom, our towels folded neat in our laps like a normal family. My mom loaned us her car one summer, that was nice. Drive-ins, different parks. Day after day after day at the beach. We were living on borrowed time and we used it up good.

“We’re all in this together, right?” he said and I wanted that to be true.

The rides were free but never free. First off we had to be oh so delicate with people giving us rides like they were moody German Shepards who could turn on us at any moment. I tried the taxis for a while but I’ll tell you something about small town taxis, they’re not so worried about leaving you standing outside a grocery store with your butterscotch ripple melting in the sun because they wanted to stop for a coffee. I had good taxi drivers too, one man who became a sort of friend to me and my kids on school mornings. He was nice to us, his wife baked us cookies at Christmas and he treated my boys like they were dignified little business men and he was their chauffeur. Another taxi driver who came right into the grocery store to help me pack up my food because a storm was coming and he wanted me to get home safe. “We’re all in this together, right?” he said and I wanted that to be true.

My friends started to offer me rides to help me save money. These were not free, or I decided they were not free because the guilt, the shame, asks you to pay a bigger price for everything. One friend would take me with her and then give me her children to babysit while I shopped. Another added food to my cart that I didn’t see until I couldn’t afford it at the end. Mostly my friends tried to help but how much help can you ask for when you are plainly an adult yourself? This is a life of a ticking time bomb.

Now that my boys are big and grown and I have a very fine little car in the driveway I see those years with the softest of eyes. We made it. We walked together all over the place. We took ourselves not too seriously and tried to laugh together when we got stuck in rain storms and snow storms. I made us lots of hot soups and stews and cookies in the winter as our reward for being outside. They tell me they remember the cookies more than the rain. They are so gentle, always.

Now it’s me and my car being the best of friends every day. We went on a big long road trip together, three weeks away just me and the Nissan Versa. I rode around big places with big names, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. I drank coffee, I ate scones, I listened to music picked out by one of my gentle boys for my gentle trip. I forgave myself for all the taxi rides and the snow storms and the melted butterscotch ripple. Grateful for a full tank of gas and oil changes, grateful for safe tires.

I found that same quiet place inside myself from that one ride to the beach. My whole life wrapped up neat in my lap.