When we became a family of three, we knew it was time to get a minivan.
Most parents enter this phase of their lives with dread, but I couldn’t wait. The cup holders! A backup camera! Bluetooth-whatever-that-is! Seats far apart enough that I don’t have to yell “Just stop touching each other!” Convenience and safety were all that mattered to me anymore.
Being the frugal, practical people we are, my husband and I spent the better part of a year researching, scrimping, and saving. Finally – a few weeks after our daughter was born – we found a good price on a used van with low mileage. The heated leather seats, while not a requirement, were certainly an added bonus.
When we signed the check, we were proud. When we filled out the title paperwork that said “We bought this. We own it,” we were proud. When my husband drove it home with brand new tires and a full tank of gas, we were proud.
But you know what they say: Pride cometh before a deer jumps out in front of you and totals your minivan.
When my husband called, I thought it was a cruel (and frankly, poorly-executed) joke. He surely couldn’t expect me to believe the van was totaled. It had never even made it into our driveway. But I could tell by the sound of his voice he wasn’t lying.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said over and over again. He told me he was sorry on the phone. He told me at home that night. He told me every day for the next week.
I told him there was no need to be sorry.
“But all that money…”
For reasons too boring to delve into, the van was not covered by our insurance. It was as if we had lit thousands of dollars on fire with nothing to show for it. And really, had we chosen to withdraw the cash, go home, and actually light it on fire, we would have at least been able to enjoy a toasty blaze. Now all we had were several days of phone calls to insurance, repair shops, and wrecking services.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. All that money.”
No matter how much I told him it wasn’t his fault, that I didn’t blame him, that life happens, I knew it was about more than the van. I had been a stay at home mom since our second child was born, but over the last year I had developed a mini-freelance writing career. The money I earned was earmarked for our new car. Just before buying the van, I told my husband how proud I was that I had actually contributed to the family.
Immediately he jumped in with the knee-jerk “Of course you contribute! Raising our kids is the most important job!” comments. But I wanted to contribute financially as well. Being able to purchase something substantial with my earnings, to me, was proof that my one-time hobby was turning into n actual a career. It only took one deer, however, to erase every single penny I had earned for the past year.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. All that money.”
I knew how he felt. I had uttered those words to him over and over again last summer when I got the ER bill for my miscarriage. I had spent the next several months fruitlessly – and perhaps foolishly – disputing every charge in the bill. I didn’t need an ultrasound, I argued. They had already told me I had miscarried. They didn’t need to test my blood type. They could’ve just asked me. I didn’t consent to STD tests. I knew they weren’t necessary. The hospital wasn’t exactly impressed with my arguments and demanded I pay them four figures anyway.
I knew I couldn’t have my pregnancy back. The miscarriage had taken away my baby, but the bill took away something else. I had just started to work again after a year of staying at home. The thought of handing over the equivalent of every paycheck I had earned those the last few months to the hospital made me sick. My earnings, my pregnancy were simply erased. All I had wanted was to do something that would last.
But that’s how it is with motherhood, isn’t it?
The dinners I make every day are eaten and forgotten. The sheets I tuck around them every night are kicked off every morning. The milk-covered cheeks I kissed when my children were babies are gone, replaced by those of jelly-covered preschoolers.
Try as we might to pretend otherwise, there’s not much in life that is permanent. Cars come and go (some, faster than others). Children grow up.
But I like to think our effort remains. Perhaps in the middle of the night, some sleep-deprived mother desperate to find something to keep her awake during a feeding session will stumble upon an essay I wrote. And even if there’s no evidence of it in my bank account or my driveway, maybe the words I wrote will mean something to her. Or at the very least, keep her awake long enough to get the baby back to sleep.
Even if said baby will just wake up again two hours later. Like I said, there’s not much in life that’s permanent.