So, I took off a few days for Nayla’s spring break so that we could do something special. I decided to drive from Birmingham to Chattanooga to see the aquarium and the children’s museum. I heard great things about the aquarium, mostly that it was smaller and less crowded than Atlanta’s aquarium but equally fun. Children’s museums are also cool to visit. They kind of remind me of the expensive white ceramic Starbuck’s mugs labeled with the name of the city you are in. All the mugs in every city are exactly the same, but somehow because they say “Chicago” or “Birmingham,” you feel okay about spending the extra money.
I really didn’t want to over-plan the trip. I know from my experience as an Obstetrician, anyone that comes in with a 15-point birth “plan” ends ups getting a cesarean section. Therefore, I tried to be spontaneous. I woke up on the day of departure when I felt like it. I watched an episode of Underground in bed before Nayla knew I was awake. Then I walked out and announced to Nayla and her grandmother (Thomas’ mom, who I gently nudged into accompanying me on this trip) that we were leaving in 1 hour. We got ready and just as we were headed to pack the car, my husband said, “Do you know where you are going to stay?” In my head I said, “No, I don’t Thomas. This is my trip and not yours. I’m going to be spontaneous.” Out loud I said, “No, babe but we’ll be alright.”
As we were walking to load the car, it hit me. My car was an absolute mess of a mess. The backseat had crumbs and crayons and a stack of medical journals on the floorboard. The front seat and console had coffee mugs, crumbs, hair pins, ink pens, hair ties, gum wrappers and my work I.D. badge. Also living in the arm rest compartment between the front seats, was no less than 10 hair scarves that I wear on the ride to work to lay down my hair edges. I don’t wear 10 scarves every day. I have just accumulated the scarves and haven’t gotten around to putting them back.
My African-American sister readers will know exactly why these are needed.
I thought as I was walking down the plank of embarrassment, “What will she think?” And then I thought more importantly, “What will he think?” You can imagine that I was concerned about my mother-in-law’s opinion and that of my very particular, but loving, husband. I raced to get ahead of the pack so I could clean out my car quickly before anyone saw. I was too slow. My husband took one look at the state of the car, and brought out the industrial sized vacuum from his shop in the garage. I tried to neatly stack the journals and he said, “Do you want me to just take them out?” I hung my head in shame, “Yes.” The backstory is this. I have been driving around in my car with these journals for months. I intended to read them, but have yet to open one.
Reader, before you judge me about the condition of my car, think of yours.
My mother-in-law (MIL), Nayla and I got in the car and after running some in-town errands, headed toward Chattanooga. About 25 miles outside of Chattanooga, we heard a sudden rattling noise coming from the car. I pulled over. My MIL and I got out, looked at the car and “checked” the tires. We had no idea what we were looking at, but everything seemed fine. We got back in the car and the noise continued. We pulled off again after a short time. I looked closer at the tires and noticed that the front right tire looked as if it were unraveling.
“That can’t be safe,” I thought. In my head I started to panic.
Me out loud: “Okay, well I think we have a spare tire.”
MIL: “Can you change a spare tire?”
Me: “No, but I can you-tube it.”
MIL: “Call Thomas.”
Me on the phone: “Hey babe. We are 25 miles outside of Chattanooga. The tire is unraveling.”
Thomas: “Look on the back of your insurance card and call the number. There should be some sort of roadside assistance.”
“Good call,” I thought. Thank God for Thomas. I called the insurance company. The agent asked if I had a spare tire and just needed it changed or did I need the car to be towed. I remembered that Thomas said we had a spare tire, but I wanted to be sure before I answered the agent’s question. I opened the trunk and didn’t see a tire. Turns out there is a compartment underneath the floor of the trunk that houses spare tires. Who knew? Apparently everyone except me knows this, including my MIL.
We waited by the side of the road for some time for the roadside assistance guy to come change the spare tire. My MIL said, “When we get the tire, I think we can make it back to Birmingham.” “Nope,” I thought silently. “We are going to that aquarium if it’s the last thing we do.” I was determined for this trip to be successful for two reasons. First, as a mother, I want every experience for Nayla to be a great memory. Second, I am a determined woman and will not be defeated. As we waited in the car, Nayla said, “This trip is an epic fail.” In my head I wanted to tell her something.
Reader, I’ll let you imagine what that something was.
Out loud I said, “This trip is still happening. It is not an epic fail.” During our waiting time, I learned a few things, like how to pee on the side of the road in broad daylight. You open the front and back passenger’s doors and squat in-between. Who knew? Apparently everyone except me knows this, including my MIL. I also learned that people no longer stop to help you, even if your group includes a senior citizen and a seven-year old girl. I asked my MIL what people did in this situation before cell phones. She said that stranded people would walk to the nearest gas station or good Samaritans would stop and help change the spare tire. I began to long for those days, when people even noticed people like us on the side of the road. Then I thought about how many times I passed people without even blinking. Ouch.
The guy finally came and put our spare tire on. It was almost flat. He advised us to drive up to the next exit and fill the tire with air at the gas station. I asked him how much air I should put in the tire. He said to put just enough air to “make the bulge go away.” I knew I could do that. I looked at my MIL who was staring skeptically at me. I said, “I’ve put air in a bike tire before, so it can’t be that different.” Turns out it is different. Who knew? Apparently everyone except me, including my MIL. The stupid pump kept beeping at me and didn’t fill up the tire. I drove to the nearest Wal-mart on the bum spare.
Reader, in case you didn’t know, you can’t go more than 50 mph on spares.
I told the lady at the Wal-mart Auto servicing center that I needed help. She examined my tire and said, “Honey, you need a whole new set.” I knew this to be true, so I bit the bullet and had them replace the whole set.
Reader, I won’t tell you how I knew this to be true. It may or may not have to do with conversations between my husband and me for the last few months about the state of my tires.
I also won’t go into how my credit card was declined when I attempted to pay for the tires because I failed to tell my credit card company that I was out of town. They enacted a fraud alert. At the end of this ordeal, the aquarium and the children’s museum were long closed and it was nighttime. We drove to downtown Chattanooga to find a hotel. I stopped and paid through the nose for the last room available. I was grateful, because I wouldn’t have heard the end of it if I couldn’t find lodging. The last room had a king bed that my MIL, Nayla and I shared. By the way, it’s hardly restful to share a bed with a 7-year old. I got kicked and punched all night.
When I talked to Thomas after we settled in for the night he said, “I knew we should have replaced your tires, but I thought a 2-hour trip would be okay. Why didn’t you call your husband before making a major purchase like that?” “Good point,” I thought. Instead I said, “Because I knew that I needed them and I didn’t want to go back and forth over the phone for an hour in Wal-mart.” We talked for a little while longer, comfortably assuming our marital roles – him cast as the responsible, prepared and worried husband and me, the dreamer. “Well, I’m proud of you,” he said. I turned to Nayla and said, “Now, let’s jump on the bed.”
The good news is that the next day went much better. I got up early, partly because I’m an early riser and partly because Nayla beat me up in her sleep and I couldn’t get comfortable. When my MIL woke up, she got straight on her knees and started to pray. Although this was probably her tradition, I couldn’t help but think that she was asking God’s help in getting us home in one piece. We made it to the aquarium, the children’s museum and back to Birmingham safely.
Many people reading this story may have taken away some profound lesson like, “always be prepared” or “have a backup plan.” I took away this simple lesson: I should probably learn to change a tire and make sure the spare has air.
Picture evidence that we made it to the aquarium and the children’s museum.