The $327 Teachable Moment

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Cars are stupid.

This has been one of those weeks. This is a week that began with the kids finding tap shoes and whistles at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. This is a week wherein, if I handle an egg, it inevitably leaps to the floor. This is a week of Spring Break, which means no school, holidays I never ended up figuring out how to celebrate and, apparently, snow. So you will not be surprised to learn that on Monday afternoon, my car was towed.

Allow me to set the scene: it was a beautiful (pre-snowstorm) spring day, and we had a lovely plan to meet a school friend of Harper’s at the Botanic Gardens. Did I know the Botanic Gardens were closed on Mondays? No I did not, though by this point in my day I should have seen the writing on the wall.

Once we discovered the Gardens were closed, Harper did a celebratory dance. She had not wanted to leave her game at home after all, and thought this meant a return to the great-apartment-dweller’s-whistles-and-tap-shoes performance. But this other family — four children and all — had already mobilized and I felt terrible, imagining that their kids like mine probably took forever to get ready to get out the door, and thus guessing they had been getting ready to meet us since three weeks ago — so we decided on the Prospect Park Zoo nearby. Unfortunately, I have been abusing our zoo membership lately, and the kids were getting a little meerkat-weary, so Harper proceeded to cross her arms and plop down on the sidewalk next to the car, screaming that she refused to go anywhere, and there had been much SIMPLY TOO MUCH not-being-at-home-with-tap-shoes-and-whistles. I responded the way any good, tired, frustrated, premenstrual mother would, by yelling loud enough to scare her into the car. Ollie responded by sitting in his carseat and taking deep, exaggerated breaths and singing, “Grownups Come Back.” (If there is a more heartbreaking response to a parental lack of composure, well, I’m sure I’ll see it soon.)

We made it to the zoo and it was impossible to park but I found a spot on a block where I’d parked once before on a morning visit to the zoo. And by found I meant STOLE a spot from a car that was making a U-turn for. Instant Karma is going to get you indeed.

The only caveat with this parking spot (or so I thought then) was that it was near the entrance of the zoo that involves a carousel and obviously I didn’t have cash, so it also involved a walk to at ATM, carousel ride, etc etc. This cheered everyone up enough to provide for a nice afternoon playdate, and everyone ran around and got really tired out, and then it was 5 p.m., late for us to be out and about still, but the sun felt so nice and the kids’ begging for ice cream on the way out so very loud that we stopped again, and ran around the park some more. Then, sun-stained and bleary-eyed, we went to to spot where the car was parked. Had been parked. Was not any longer parked. I went through the stages of grief in an eyeblink and then took a deep breath like I’d learned from somewhere, oh right from Ollie, and said, “Oh! Oh dear. Our car has been towed. Well, my mistake, I guess we weren’t supposed to park there after 4. Golly! Let’s take the bus home, doesn’t that sound fun?”

The kids burst into tears.

Ollie: “The bus is STINKY! I HATE the bus!”

Harper: “What about our CDs in the car??”

Ollie: “Well I don’t actually hate the bus but I want our car!”

Harper: (through heaving sobs) “When I grow up I’m going to be a police officer – wait no the PRESIDENT - and I am going to send a special tow truck to all the police cars and SMASH THEM!”

We trotted over to the bus stop. I’d already performed my most-self-loathing-inducing parenting move that day when I lost my shit and yelled, so I felt extra motivated to do this one right.  “Hey guys!” I said. “When you think about it, we are actually kinda lucky! Look, the bus stop is right here, and there’s a bench. It’s a nice day — what if it were cold and rainy right now? And we’ve taken this bus before and it goes right to our building, and I have a metrocard with money on it, and hey here’s the bus! Isn’t this actually kinda fun?”

They shook their heads and continued to weep at the thought of their precious Magic Treehouse: The Musical CD cold and alone, belting out show tunes about Camelot somewhere without them, . We got on the bus, much to the delight of the tired commuters, and found some nice seats for scream-weeping in.

The thing is, the more I repeated this to the kids — “This could have been so much worse. It’s really okay. It wasn’t the tow truck’s fault, it was my fault for not seeing the sign! And the next steps are really quite easy. You eat dinner, Daddy comes home, I go get the car, no big deal. Weren’t we lucky we were right by the stop for the bus with the route we know that goes right home? Weren’t we lucky it was a nice warm night?” — the more it felt true. Even as I headed to the Navy Yards at dusk. Even as I paid the unspeakable towing fee. Even as I got in the car with the police escort — at least they try to help you not get murdered on your way through the lot — to go find my poor lonely car.

“Miss Amy,” said the elderly man, looking at my paperwork, “You’re doing really well. I see a lot of angry people on this job. You’re doing really well.”

“Thank you,” I said, the teacher’s pet in me absurdly pleased at this thought. “I have been doing deep breathing.”

“They are really cracking down on parking violations. I’m about to throw in the towel, to be honest. I’m too old for this. Nice young ladies like you out here because you were parked in the wrong place for a few minutes. It’s too much.”

Torn between loyalty to the new mayor I did after all vote for and have a weird friend-crush on, and indignance at the expense and inconvenience of the mishap (wasn’t there some sort of regulation that if they see two car seats in the car they let you go with a slap on the wrist? Maybe a $0 warning parking ticket like they had in sweet old Iowa City?) — I nodded.

“Now, Miss Amy, did they tell you there will also be a ticket on your car?”

I was so flattered by his complimenting my coping skills that I wanted to maintain my facade as someone good at dealing with stress, so I took another deep breath, hummed “Grownups Come Back” to myself, and said, “Oh? Well that figures! What a day, right?” I pictured the angry red chart my accounting app would show again this month. I took the parking ticket off the windshield, got in the car, and accidentally listened to a full song of the kids’ eardrum-bruising CD before I remembered I could turn it off.

The kids were very shaken up by this whole experience, and wanted to recap the next day. I repeated the importance of seeing the bright side, starting to actually believe myself. Ollie switched songs to Peg + Cat‘s “Problem solved! Problem solved! We solved the problem, now everything is awesome, problem solved!” (Don’t judge, that PBS app saves my life some days.) A few minutes later, he threw up his still-chunky cheerios all over the floor. Harper stared, a hand over her mouth. Then she shrugged and said, “Oh well! This is good practice for me for when I’m a doctor some day! I bet I’ll have to get used to seeing throw-up!”

Everything is awesome, indeed.

5 responses to “The $327 Teachable Moment

  1. I’m so glad I subscribe to your blog, because I’m on a hiatus from Facebook and I might’ve missed this awesome post!! Your storytelling prowess will always serve you in a jam. Thanks for sharing this amusing tale where the heroine is 100% human putting 1000% effort into giving her kids a great life experience. ~ Michelle

  2. Wait, what bus goes from the zoo to your house?? Good read, dude.

  3. Oh, we’re with you. Everyone has been puking over here. It’s been a blissful break! Gad!

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