The day the car didn’t start was a day when I really needed the car to start.
I guess that’s usually how it goes, right? As usual, I had risen at five in the morning, gone on a run and pulled myself together by the time my kids woke up. “Okay,” I said to the three of them at breakfast, “here’s the plan. Grandpa Tom will take Tommy to his allergy shots. I’ll drop Austin off with the Wilsons and Claire is coming with me to Children’s Hospital to get a blood draw. We’ll all need to go in a few minutes.”
I rounded the big kids up and we went out to the car.
It wouldn’t start.
I tried a few times to get the car to start, but it was dead. “What’s wrong?” Claire asked.
“The car is dead,” I said. I cursed inwardly.
“Oh no!” she said. “What are we going to do?”
I was thinking the same thing. “Okay,” I said, thinking out loud, “Austin, you can walk to the Wilson’s. Just make sure to look when you cross the street.”
Austin was elated to have this level of responsibility. “Claire,” I said, turning to her, “we’ll take a cab to the hospital.”
I looked on my phone. It was early in the morning but already rush hour in DC. I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap to get there.
But I could do it. I texted my dad about the car and then I emailed my boss to let her know I’d be a little later than planned. Claire whined in the cab about how much she didn’t want to get a blood draw, and I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t a big deal.
Eventually, we got to Children’s Hospital. I filled out dozens of pieces of paper and wrote down my insurance information.
“You have new insurance?” the woman at the front desk asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“So the primary person responsible is no longer Shawn Brimley?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “he died. My daughter is under my insurance now.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Let me get your new information entered into the system.”
I came back and sat next to Claire. There was a kid in a wheelchair across from us and another kid without any hair. “Mom,” she said quietly, looking around the waiting room, “I feel so bad for some of the kids here.”
She paused, and then even quieter, she said to me, “I’m glad I only have allergies. It could be so much worse.”
I squeezed her hand. I was thinking the same thing at that moment. “Everyone here is really brave,” I said, “including you.”
An hour later, Claire had her blood draw and we were back in a cab headed to her school. We stopped to get a treat at a coffee shop beforehand, and laughed about the adventure we’d been on that day. After I dropped her off at school, I went home to meet the man from AAA and get the car started.
As I waited, I thought about how tough the morning had been. I was exhausted and I hadn’t even begun to do the “work” part of my day. My car was dead. I had to deal with new insurance forms. My daughter still needed a lot of care for her allergies.
And, I thought, I am doing it all alone. Yes, my dad is around. But I’m handling all of those big decisions alone.
But then I started to think about how much harder this morning could have been. When my car didn’t start, I didn’t think twice about taking an expensive cab both ways to the hospital. When my son needed to go with a friend to school, I knew my neighborhood was safe enough to let him walk a few blocks alone. When my daughter felt sick, she was able to get treatment. When my husband’s insurance no longer covered us, my workplace provided insurance for me and the kids. When I needed an extra hour to deal with my dead car battery, my boss didn’t penalize me.
I’m alone. I’m doing so much more work with so many more obstacles than I was a few years ago.
But some mornings I sit back and remember this: it could be so much worse.