Yesterday was interesting. In the Chinese curse fashion.
It started out ordinary enough for a Monday. Fiona and I were having a sleepy morning so Jeff took the car to work and left us to wake up, planning to come home at noon so that I could head out in the afternoon to get groceries. We cleaned house and played My Little Ponies. (If I haven’t mentioned the My Little Ponies obsession yet, I’m sorry. I will do a whole post on that soon.) At lunch Jeff came home, but Fiona was still in her jammies, and I just didn’t feel like going out, so we fed him and sent him back to work. I had enough food in the house for a couple of days anyhow. Why bother?
My morning was boringly normal. My day got interesting at exactly, let me check my phone, 1:08pm.
Which is when Jeff called. His exact words were, “Is the car going to catch on fire? It’s really hot and there’s fluid everywhere.”
My husband is good at many, many things. He’s actually kind of a wizard when it comes to computers and electronics. He can make our TV talk to our computer and the X-Box while making the computer suffer from a mental health (digital health?) issue that makes it believe that it’s actually about 40 different kinds of computers and operating systems. He runs a Linux system that is seamless enough that Fiona and I use it on a daily basis. He once made BSD dual-boot with Windows and didn’t get eaten by sharks, though our whole system was down for about 24 hours. He can keep his cool in California traffic and find his way places without having a mental breakdown. He can put on a suit and speak corporate and put on jeans and a t-shirt and talk to teenagers and have both listen to him. He’s fantastically talented.
Cars are not his thing. At all. Which means that his solution to car problems is to cuss ( which he does with facility, volume, and creativity) and kick the car and pay out the nose for someone else to fix it.
I, however, like not paying out the nose for things. And, truth be told, I really like cars. I like the smell of engine grease. I like the thin layer of grime that I get coated with as I poke at the inner workings. I like the way it all fits together like a three-dimensional puzzle and how much of working on cars is dependent not on what the interior looks like but what noises it makes. I’m very auditory and engines tell you what’s wrong if you listen. Which means that if the car breaks down on a Monday afternoon, it’s my bailiwick. Even if I’m across town.
So, I scrapped my plans of a lazy afternoon painting, exchanged the child-unit’s jammies for clothes, and convinced her that we were off on an adventure. Which we were.
Fiona has been asking to go on a bus for about a year now. I keep putting it off. I mean, we have a car. Why go wait for a bus when we can get to the good stuff faster and with less waiting?
Joy. That’s why.
Have you ever seen everyone on a city bus smile? It’s pretty cool to watch. Fiona was thrilled to be taking the bus. Loudly and excitedly thrilled. Her joy at the sights “zooming past us so so sosososo fast”, spread to everyone else. That’s one of her gifts. That tendency to make the whole world light up with her joy. It’s cool to watch.
So, we took the bus and walked a couple blocks and found ourselves at Jeff’s work.
I poked at the engine for a moment and confirmed that it was radiator fluid. Good. Radiators are accessible and relatively inexpensive as things that spew fluid all over a car go.
We added some water and watched as nothing leaked. Not Good.
So, we sent Jeff back to work and limped to the auto parts store, less than six blocks away. At the first stoplight the temperature gauge started to rise. By the time we got to O’Reilly’s we were solidly in the red zone. Definitely the radiator then. Whether or not I could see the problem. Except that the fans didn’t kick on. At all. Crap. A sensor issue maybe? But why all the fluid?
I mention O’Reilly by name because yesterday they provided me with great service and incredible patience. Their assistant manager came out and poked at my engine with me. He helped me identify sensors and pull plugs and suggested that my radiator had probably cracked.
While we talked parts and replacements and looked into ordering things, Fiona played at my feet in a display of small tools, magnets, and bendy mirrors. Again her laughter and investigation of the tools was contagious and everyone who watched her smiled with her. Customers joked with me, that “This is how it begins. You’ll never get her into princess dresses now.” I wanted to cheer.
I went ahead and bought a new sensor and took it home to install it. No dice. The clerk at the counter had given me a different sensor and a few tools for installing it that didn’t fit with the part we’d identified as needing replacement. Crud.
Also, after fidgeting with the sensor, I realized the car wasn’t cooling even with the fans on. Definitely a cracked radiator. I called the parts store again. And I needed a radiator.
And regular life intervened at that point. I had a cranky child who needed to not stand around in parking lots while I installed parts and needed to be fed a real dinner and have a real bath. Jeff caught a ride home with a coworker, and I made dinner. After dinner I ran a bath for Fiona and left my husband in charge while I headed back out to the auto parts store.
Now, I haven’t done this very often, leaving Fiona and Daddy to do the bedtime thing. When Fiona was small her nursing needs and her food allergies combined to make it very difficult for her to be away from me. As she got older, Jeff has been frequently overstressed and overworked, meaning that I simply didn’t want to push him to take on a rambunctious toddler at the end of a hard day. So, while they’ve had time together, it’s rarely been at bedtime. Typically if I’ve gone out it’s been during the day or after bedtime. I had a small amount of trepidation that they might both have lost their minds by the time I got back.
But still, car repairs must be done. So I headed out. At the store we waited for my engine to cool to a workable temperature, then removed the likely bad sensor. And replaced it. And nothing changed. Which meant that I likely had a bad radiator. But I didn’t want to buy a new one unless I had to. The assistant manager said that they had a pressure test kit. So we waited some more. And we opened the radiator cap. And it is then that we realized that I may like cars, but I’m still an amateur.
You see, the radiator overflow tank and the radiator caps are right next to each other. Guess which one I had added fluid to? Yep. That’s right the overflow. Which means that I was running my poor car without water. Poor car. Poor me.
I’ve never seen an expression quite like that on anyone’s face before. Part anger. Part laughter. Part “Oh my god! You have got to be the dumbest bit of fluff!” I hope I never see that expression again, because really, it means that I’ve been the dumbest bit of fluff. And I don’t like that sensation. It’s kind of sick embarrassed feeling in the center of my chest. And, injury to insult, I then had to go inside and buy a new radiator.
So, I added fluid to the radiator before I left, and drove home. Dreading the grumpiness that undoubtedly awaited me. Probably an overtired kid. Probably a stressed husband. Ugh.
As I walked up the sidewalk to my house, dreading telling my husband that I had missed something so obvious, I could hear screaming.
Ugh. I’d have run away from home, except that I’d have had to take the bus.
As I came through the front door I heard from the bedroom, “Uh-oh! Mommy’s home!”
And laughter. And joy. And as I walked into my bedroom I found my husband pretending to be tied up and struggling to get free of the ponies. The My Little Ponies had captured him. He pretended to break one arm free and attacked, a horrible onslaught of tickling and Fiona shrieked in glee. And I melted.
Because, in spite of everything, at the end of the day everything went completely, totally…