As I sit outside on a bench, waiting for my car to have yet one more thing done to it to make it run well, I'm flooded with a series of memories of similar times of waiting. One was the cross-country trip, alone with my three and five-year-old children. The car kept breaking down, and I had a series of misadventures each time - often towed and/or limping into one garage after another. Each mechanic replaced a different part. I kept suggesting the transmission. They kept insisting that the transmission was fine. At the end of three thousand miles I asked my father to recommend someone who specialized in transmissions. That mechanic listened, said he didn't see how it could be the transmission, but added that since I knew the van better than anyone, he would take it apart and look. He said the transmission had been shredding, out of view, and finally replaced it. It was like having a new van. Better yet, I had been validated, listened to and believed. Three thousand miles and four garages to fix something I knew was wrong in the first place.
I think my gender helped those mechanics dismiss my concerns. They were the experts, and this little lady with her young kiddos didn't really know her way around a vehicle. And they were right about that. I had worked on my car before, under the watchful eye of my dad, but that was just being his hands. He had all of the knowledge and I followed directions. I did, at that point, change my own oil, and take care of a few things. But I didn't really understand the inner workings of a transmission. What I did know, was my own van. The feel of it. The subtle changes that were not quite right. And I had just enough knowledge to make me think the problem was the transmission.
The fear and anxiety of the breakdowns, however, were only part of that trip. I also remember the many people who helped me along the way. Barb and Lou took me in and directed me to their mechanic in Lake Forest, Illinois. They also watched my children while I caught up on some much-needed sleep. There was a tow truck driver in Michigan who had an extra-wide seat that accommodated all of us and who drove us over 100 miles through summer construction to deliver us to Barb and Lou's house. Karen and Jill, my aunts and uncles, Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Larry who took us in when we crossed Iowa, and helped with a visit to the emergency room following a tumble from some playground equipment, all made the trip possible. There were the kind people in Bismarck, North Dakota, who housed us in their inn, and the mechanics who put things enough together to get us all the way to Oregon. (I spent the entire trip gauging how close I was to each major city in case I needed to find a garage that could handle fixing my van.) And Aunt-Gail-of-the-Many-Llamas, who took me in when I was exhausted and lavished us with kindness (still feel bad about leaving a gate open accidentally and having to get the llamas back in).
I also remember a persistent sense of adventure as we travelled. There was an amazing sense of freedom as we drove across the west, we three in a van. We explored Dinosaur National Park, the one place my son had said he wanted to visit along the way. We ate meals under the big sky and found ways to entertain ourselves as we drove. When we finally pulled into Bend, Oregon, and settled in for a long visit with my parents, I could again relax while others took care of my little ones. It was here that my husband joined us, and we turned around to drive back across the country. This time we camped along the way, and had a whole new set of adventures.
The trip was hard at times. The trip was even dangerous at times. But we all look back on it as a time and way that we learned important lessons. We learned how to travel as a young family. We learned how to explore the interior of our country, the parts often flown over by travelers who do not have the time to drive. We learned to rely on the kindness of strangers when we needed to. We learned to trust our instincts, no matter what the "experts" told us along the way. And we learned resilience. Our children look back on the three trips we have taken cross-country as important touchstones. I think it helped give them a sense of confidence and adventure. I look back on them as pure gold. Even the times spent sitting on a bench, outside of a garage, waiting for a car to be fixed. Today I'm in the shade, it's a beautiful day, and I have my memories for company. It's a good day.