I’m driving down 39th Avenue, four lanes of urban haze. The kids are tired and thirsty. I need to pee. It’s Friday afternoon and I am already exhausted by the sixteen things I’ve committed to getting done this weekend.
When the gas light comes on.
“Shoot.” “What’s wrong, Mommy?” “Nothing, honey. We’re just a little low on gas.” “I’ll fill it up!” My son holds out his finger and makes a jjjhhhuuuzzz sound. “Thanks, hon,” I call to the back seat.
My husband will drive for miles with the gas light on. He has faith in his tank. For me, the gas light is a beady red eye staring at me, asking me what I’m planning to do with two little kids when I run out of gas, when the car sputters to a stop in the intersection of 39th and Powell. What will I do with them while I’m pushing the car out of the street into the parking lot of the Supercuts? Or, since someone has to steer, I guess I’ll have to wait until someone stops to help. Or call Triple A. But that takes half an hour. And what do I do with the kids while we’re moving the car? Are they safer inside the car in their car seats, or should they be away from traffic? If so, where do I put them? Do I set them on the bench of the bus stop and growl, “Hold hands and don’t move.” Do I usher them inside the Supercuts and look for that nice Mormon gal who cut their hair a couple times and see if your kids could possibly hang out in the waiting area for two minutes while you take care of some car trouble. And what are the odds the kids are not, upon hearing this, going to cling to your legs and cry?
What about the gas? How do I get us all to the gas station? I can carry my daughter, slip my bag over my shoulder, and still hold my son’s hand. What about coming back with the gas container? I could carry it with the other hand but then I can’t hold my son’s hand. Because we’ve trained him so well, he won’t cross a street without holding a hand and this isn’t the day he’s going to start. Maybe he could hold my purse strap? Hold onto my pant leg? Hold onto the gas can? And by the way, I don’t have a gas can. Am I supposed to bring my own? Does the gas station loan you one?
By now, I will really have to pee and the kids will too. They will hate the gas station bathroom. I will hate it too but pretend it’s nice. No, they won’t sit there. No, they can’t wait until we get home. No, says my daughter in three octaves. Come on, I will say and my son will cry and ask why I’m being so crabby. They will go after I bribe them with chocolate cake and I cringe the whole time thinking of the germs getting on their tiny bodies. I tell myself they will have a hot soapy bath the minute we get home. And while they play I can bake the chocolate cake.
“Where are we going?” my son asks as I pull into the filling station. “The park!” shouts my daughter. “Just getting a little gas,” I say. I don’t know how much gas was left, but there was enough to go a hundred yards. I can stop the questions now. They are answered as I hand my debit card to the attendant, as she fills the tank and hands it back. So easy, this exchange. So, so easy.