The day started out well enough, except when Baby Bear lunged at me (something he does a lot for no particular reason). As I reflexively held up my hands, he smashed my left ring and pinkie fingers. That made it very painful to type on the computer.
Mr. Lucky went and picked up our firstborn, the Crown Prince, and brought him back for a visit. Baby Bear was thrilled to see his big brother, constantly smiling up at him and tugging on his hand. There was many a moment, in fact, when I saw his mouth and tongue moving in such a way, that I was sure he was trying to say his brother’s name. I did my best to prompt him many times, pointing to the Crown Prince and saying his name, but Bear has yet to say a real word.
Still, I loved seeing them get along so well, and it made me wish the Prince still lived with us.
Shortly after four, Mr. Lucky left in his Buick Riviera to take our oldest back to the group home where he lives, about thirty miles away. About a half hour later, he called me on his cell phone. He’d just taken the exit off the Interstate to the group home, which was still about seven miles away, and the belt on his Buick broke, overheating the engine. He needed me to come and pick them up and take them the rest of the way, then bring Mr. Lucky back home.
It was almost five o’clock on Monday. I couldn’t think of a worse time of day to be on the Interstate, especially with Baby Bear. We’ve been having a lot of trouble keeping him buckled in the back seat of the minivan lately, but for some reason he’ll stay buckled in the front passenger seat (at 5’6”, he’s big enough), so that’s where I strapped him in minus his shoes because he would’ve doffed them before I backed out of the driveway. I switched on the ignition, and with an ominous ding, a picture of a little gas tank lit up on the dashboard. The needle on the fuel gauge just brushed the top of the letter E.
Mr. Lucky, the last person to drive the minivan, had struck again. That man will not pull into a gas station until he’s running on fumes, or—in at least two cases that I’ve been holding over his head for years—until the tank simply runs dry and the car sputters to a halt in the very middle of the road. Me—Ms. Perfectly Self-Righteous—I never let the tank go below half, and let me tell you, that paid off several years ago when we had to evacuate because of a hurricane (subject for a future post).
We usually gas up on base (when we go out there, twenty miles away) or at Wal-Mart about seven miles away, but I didn’t want to take a chance on going that far with so little, so I pulled into the first gas station on our trip, which had pumps very different from what I was used to. A Cadillac was directly in front of me, and turned into the nearest available pump. I stayed right on his tail, hoping he’d pull forward to the next pump, but instead his reverse lights flashed on, and I had to back up. He wasn’t there to get gas, he was there to go into the convenience store, and decided he wanted to back in to the parking space out front. I had to sit and wait while he maneuvered his huge car as if he were trying to steer the Titanic around that iceberg. In the meantime, another car zoomed in from the opposite direction and took the pump I’d originally hoped to get.
Finally I got to a pump. Baby Bear screamed and thrashed in his seat, probably because we were in an unfamiliar place and weren’t moving. I came thisclose to locking the keys in the minivan (thank you, God, for stopping me just before I shut the door).
I inserted my ATM card and played twenty questions with the computer while some very annoying rock music blared from speakers over my head. Then I couldn’t get the pump to work. Twice I pushed the Help button. In a moment of desperation, I pushed the blue handicapped button. No one came out to assist me or even point out to me what I was doing wrong. In disgust I slammed the nozzle back into the pump, which was a very stupid thing to do, because in so doing I smashed the same two fingers I’d bashed earlier while fending off the lunging Bear.
I said a couple of very bad words, and got back into the minivan, where Bear was using the dashboard as a busy box. I pulled forward to the next pump, which had been vacated while I was smashing my fingers.
I inserted my ATM card again, and answered the same old twenty questions--but this time I figured out what I’d done wrong before—there was some silly lever I had to flip up (or maybe it was down) before the fuel would flow. No wonder they wouldn’t come out and help me. I was very frazzled.
As the gas tank filled, our bank account drained. Fifty dollars later, we were on our way. My two fingers were throbbing. The air conditioner blew heat on my feet because Bear had been playing with the knobs. All the way, he rocked back and forth in the seat as if he were playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with an invisible playmate. It actually affected my ability to accelerate.
I had to get on one Interstate, then from there merge onto another Interstate, all during rush hour, before we finally found Mr. Lucky and the Crown Prince just off the exit ramp.
The Crown Prince, at 6’5”, insisted on folding himself into the very back seat. Bear decided to join him. We drove to the group home to drop off the older boy, during which time Bear got out of his seat and came up front to lay on the horn. As Mr. Lucky strapped him into the back seat using at least two seat belts, Bear started rocking forward again and hit his dad right in the nose.
Ah, if my husband and I had a dollar for every time that kid hit one of us in the nose, or the mouth . . . or smashed our fingers . . . we could buy a full tank of gas for every car and truck on our street.
I asked him if he wanted me to drive back, otherwise he’d have to sit with Bear to make sure he stayed buckled. No way was Mr. Macho doing that, even with a throbbing nose. He insisted on driving, so I crawled into the back with Bear.
To get back to the Interstate, we had to drive a seven mile stretch of highway running parallel to railroad tracks. Every time we passed a railroad crossing, with the red lights and crisscross signs and striped barricades—Bear pulled on me and pointed to it, jabbing his finger in the air until I said, “Railroad crossing.”
There must be a railroad crossing every hundred feet along that stretch, because it seems as if that’s all he did until we got to the Interstate. Who are these people always complaining that railroad crossings aren’t clearly marked? My autistic son sees every darned one of them.
On the way home, something that could only spring from my anxiety-fevered imagination occurred to me: I told my husband how I put my ATM card and PIN number into the first pump but didn't get gas from it. I was worried that someone could pull up immediately afterward and fill up on my card. He said no, that it should time-out and even if it didn’t, the person wouldn’t get more than fifty dollars’ worth.
By that evening, I had two blue fingernails on my left hand, and wondered if I’d have to polish the rest in a similar shade to match. Though they’re still tender, they’re doing better now, as is Mr. Lucky’s nose and his Buick, which went in for repairs the next morning.
A check of the bank account confirmed that no one got free gas off my ATM card. At least it gave me something new to worry about.
Oh, and the number of times I had to get up for Baby Bear related incidents while writing this post? 9