If there’s one thing I can probably bank on it's that my son will never run out of gas.
He watches his fuel gauge like a mother frets over a new baby that first night home. As a matter of fact, it’s a sure bet that he checks the fuel gauge of any car he gets into within moments of entering the vehicle.
This obsession with proper fuel levels is a result of one of those parenting fuck-ups that traumatize your kid FOREVER.
About ten years ago we were on vacation in a small Adirondack mountain town. Toward the end of the trip our 4-year-old daughter got really sick with fevers spiking to 104 and copious vomiting. We took her to one of those little mountain clinics to have her checked over and this very young, very nice doctor scared the living hell out of us.
After examining Giggles, this very nice, very young doctor told us that there had been several recent cases of meningitis in the area and she recommended we immediately take ourselves off to the local hospital, over an hour away, to have our daughter tested for meningitis.
We all know that the test for meningitis is a spinal tap? This very young doctor was telling us to go to an unfamiliar New York Mountain hospital to have some unknown doctor/facility perform a spinal tap on our little 4-year-old baby.
A SPINAL TAP. 4 Years old. Let’s let that sink in for a few moments.
We did what all rational parents do in these situations. We panicked, called our parents for advice and made the decision. We thanked her profusely and said we were going to drive home right away and bring her to the doctors we knew. She was very frowny at this idea, sternly telling us what a mistake this was as our daughter’s high fevers could cause seizures and she was at risk of dehydration. I’m sure she was thinking we were total buttheads and possibly unfit parents. She was not entirely wrong, but for other reasons.
In what had to be speediest pack up and vacate EVER, we headed south as fast as possible. The trip was fraught with high anxiety - were we doing the right thing, Giggles periodic vomiting fits required a few brief stops for clean up and to coax her into small sips to keep her hydrated and cooled down, and easing our son’s anxiety because he was feeding off of our angst.
You know where this is going, right?
We ran out of gas around midnight. On a very dark NY Thruway. Far from ANYTHING. Because when you run out of gas in these situations, it is always far from exits, rest stops, HUMANITY. Also, 10 years ago = no cell phone.
Look, when you’re really concerned that your 4 year old could have meningitis, it’s amazingly easy to forget to check the gas when stopping to clean up puke and keep the feverish child cool. Also, our seven year old had to eat and pee occasionally.
As the car sputtered to a halt on the side of the road, my husband and I looked at each other. We were both thinking the same thing, OH HELL NO and WHAT THE FUCK NOW. Both kids were asleep thankfully, Giggle’s fever was down a bit and she had not puked in over an hour. This was a good sign we thought. We also knew that getting help was going to take some time and a minor miracle. SuperHubby grabbed a flashlight and said he was going to walk a little ways down the road to try flagging down a truck or something.
I did not like this idea. But you know, NO GAS. My brain continued to short circuit from anxiety while my head swiveled between watching my daughter to watching my husband. Let me tell you that it is dark as the deepest depths of hell on the NY Thruway at midnight far away from civilization. The only lights were our flashlight, the blinking hazards and the rarely seen passing car or truck. To this day I hate that clicking sound Hazard Lights make when they are used in a silent car. Tick…tick…tick…tick
And did you know that when a large truck soars by at over 70 mph an SUV at rest will shake like hell? Well, that very wind driven rattling is what woke the 7 year old from his slumber to discover himself stranded on a dark road with no gas and his father NOT IN THE TRUCK. He handled it very well for the first ½ hour as Hey! New Adventure! By the end of the first hour he was getting on the anxiety train. When my husband got back in the car and said he was thinking of walking to the next exit, Ace went full on frantic about being left alone without his Dad. We ditched that idea because I agreed with Ace. Dark roads, no knowledge of how far next exit even was, and sick baby in car. We went back to the flashlight alert signal and hoping for the kindness of passing strangers to stop and save our asses.
Thankfully as we were about to head into hour three and rethinking the walk to the next exit, a service vehicle came rolling up behind us. It seems a concerned truck driver had called in a stranded vehicle emergency and they had gotten to us as quickly as possible. A little gas and cash later sent us back on our way. I have never been so happy to see anyone as I was that night. By the time he arrived, Ace was afraid we were going to be stuck there until dawn and that Giggles was never going to get help. It was not our finest moment.
In the first two years after that episode, Ace checked the gas gauge EVERY TIME he got in the car and asked if we have enough gas. Even if we were only going to the supermarket in town. If we took a trip any longer that that, he checked the gas level and asked regularly. If we stopped to pee, he asked about gas. If we switched roads, he asked about gas. EVERY TIME. He has his own car now and barely lets the gas gauge slip below half full before refilling. It’s his very special paranoia.
He’s looking forward to discussing this phobia in his Psych class this semester. And blaming it on his parents.
Giggles did not need a spinal tap or have meningitis, just the flu. She doesn't remember anything but I'm sure we've traumatized her in a million different ways.