By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
Over the past two years, I’ve learned a bit about homecomings, as the oldest child in our household went away to college and made the cross-country trek home at Christmas and for summer breaks. At first, I thought the most important elements in welcoming her back revolved around clean linens and menu plans.
It turns out the critical thing to prepare was transportation — especially since the younger children have this habit of growing older and accumulating obligations and schedule items.
This summer, we’re a five-job, three-car kind of household. Everybody has gainful employment — not to mention activities like basketball, community theater, summer classes at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, daily workouts at four different locations in Liberal, and the errand-running that a full house inevitably generates.
Lucky for us all, I anticipated the chaos that would descend the day my oldest stepped off the plane at Liberal Municipal Airport. Before we uncluttered the small spare room that becomes hers during summer break, before I shopped for extra ice cream, we coaxed the aging station wagon to the shop for some TLC.
“There’s no way we’re going to get through the summer without that car working,” I said to any Coleman who would listen. “The girls need a way to get themselves to and from work and lunch and all the rest.”
It did not seem the rest of the household shared my sense of urgency. Maybe that’s because I’ve operated the Mother Taxi for the past 12 years and only recently started working full time outside the house. When I told everyone I’d gotten a fabulous new job and that things would change in our daily operations, I’m not sure what they pictured. Certainly, it was not having to awaken at 6 a.m. in order to ferry one member of the family to work before sunup, in order to have access to the vehicle later in the day.
The situation was further complicated by the laws of the State of Kansas – young drivers and all that. One family member has yet to complete her restricted license testing, which adds another layer to the daily web of calculations.
I suppose we could solve the problem simply, by purchasing two more vehicles. Before this summer, I will admit I looked across the parking lot at Liberal High School, observed the many very young people who are the proud owners of shiny new vehicles, and wondered what the heck their parents were thinking when they forked over the cash. I assumed it could not possibly be good for those teens to receive such extravagant gifts, even if their families had the funds to swing the cost. I strayed into the sticky territory of making assumptions about other parents, because it didn’t make sense to me to fight traffic on the way to school every day. Also, I’m a small-town Kansas girl and a second-generation immigrant: I have this idea that everyone should work super-hard to earn things like a new pair of jeans, and even then, those jeans should not cost more than $40. I realize this is outdated thinking. I just haven’t let go of it yet.
What I didn’t realize was that young people had cars of their own, not because they were overindulged, but because their parents did not want to go stark raving mad. It would make any father or mother completely nuts to try to be in two places at the same time, holding down a job and also picking up and delivering children to various activities. I know it worked on my sanity for the few weeks I tried to juggle those duties.
And let’s not forget the problem of the gas tank. Last weekend, I made three separate trips to the service station to fill the fuel tanks of sputtering vehicles. On one of those trips, my son assisted me because the car in question was really and truly running on empty. We got out the gas can, and then panicked because no one was sure where the key to the fuel tank had ended up. With that crisis averted — I had an unnoticed spare on my key chain — we headed to the station.
“I’ll just fill my little station wagon up, too,” I told him. But as he raced up the street with the nearly-empty vehicle, hurrying to make it to the pump before the last tablespoon of gasoline evaporated, I realized I didn’t have the key to the fuel cap on my own car.
Never mind. I would figure that out at the station. The main thing was to get there and pay before we had a stranded Coleman. I did, but the gas-cap problem remained, as we searched two cluttered key rings for the missing key, stopped by my husband’s workplace, and still came up with nothing.
We parent Colemans swapped vehicles, our son zipped off to basketball practice, and I came home to fire off a Facebook message to the college daughter, hoping in vain she might have a fuel key on her set in Pennsylvania. There was no point in asking my high school daughter for help: she was somewhere between Orlanda, Fla., and Liberal, traveling with the LHS band on a bus that, presumably, had its fuel tank professionally monitored.
The fuel tank key turned up the next morning. Somehow, it had found its way to my son’s set of keys. He hadn’t even noticed. Early that morning, the band child returned. The next day at 1 p.m., the college girl arrived. Sometime in there, somebody — I can’t remember who — filled the tank of the station wagon.
We’re not to cry over spilled milk and I am guessing the principle carries over to empty fuel tanks. For the moment, I am just grateful to have everyone back for the summer, under one roof, gainfully employed, and reasonably happy.
There’s no place like home, as long as you don’t run out of gas trying to get there.