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We left in a truck and came home in a tractor…

October 26, 2012

(AKA: Living With One Car)

How many cars are parked in your driveway?  Like most in Southern California we are a two-car family.   My husband has a truck that he drives for work, stocked with his tools and supplies.  It’s essential that he has a truck for work because he’s a skilled carpenter and handyman.  So he’s always hauling and dumping and moving tools around to various job sites.  But, of course we can’t fit our family of nine in the cab of a truck.  So, we have a suburban–that seats 11.   Yes, ma’am.  Eleven.  Just in case we have the kids’ friends spending the night or we have a couple more kids.

Nothing ups your mom cred like having a tire on the front of your car.

Back in September, Labor Day to be exact, we went camping with friends.  We hooked up a trailer to the car to haul on the stuff.  Had a great time!  On the way home, I was konked out in the passenger seat and suddenly I heard my husband say, “Oh no!”  I awoke with a start!  The car had stopped–right on the freeway!  My husband managed to pull it to the side of the road and checked under the hood.  I said, “Kids!  Start praying!”  Somehow, the car started again.  But it sounded like a tractor!  Clang, Ca-clang, clang.  We got in the slow lane and chugged our way home–for about another 30 minutes.

And that, my friends, is how we began our six weeks as a one-car family.

Our car needed a new engine.  Thankfully, we are so blessed with wonderful friends who arranged to get it fixed at non-shop prices at the home of a mechanic.  Thank the Lord, ’cause that would have cost a fair bit of change!  However, that also meant that we had to be patient.  We had a choice.  We could choose to grumble and have our whole lives just in a tizzy.  We could have ran out and purchased a new car–complete with a car payment.  We could have emptied our savings and rented something while ours was being fixed.  Or we could just be patient and wait.  Obviously, we chose to be patient and wait.  This time was a gift.

This meant that hopping the car with all the kids was out of the question.  So, we stayed home.  I informed the boys’ kung fu sifu that we would be out of class until the car was fixed.  Then we stayed home.  And by “stayed home” I mean that we really stayed home.  My husband needed the car most days for work, so that meant that anything that was needed to keep the home-front running smoothly had to be carefully planned and scheduled or worked around.

This is where I am so glad that we have already started on the road to preparedness.  Sometimes we think that we are preparing for The Big One (the earthquake, gas shortage, famine or flood) when in reality we may be preparing for the normal operating of our life to be disrupted by car trouble, sickness, injury or family drama.  It might be something as simple as losing your transportation.  How will you function?  How will you get the grocery shopping done, the errands ran, the kids to their school functions?  How will you get to church?

This is where I feel like it is so very important that we build home-centric lives.  So often, we build our lives around work or school or church or our children’s extra curricular activities.  I feel so strongly that this applies not just to stay-at-home-moms.  Ideally, even our husbands (who usually work outside the home) should have home-centric lives.  All the other “stuff” in our lives is really negotiable.  Jobs come and go.  The economy can slide into recessions and depressions.  Our investments can dwindle away.  Injuries can keep us from our sports.  The weather can change on a whim and turn our lives upside down.  God can call you out of your church and into another.  But where is life still going to go on?  In your family.  We have built our lives around FAMILY not around the job, the activities or even the Church.  Our lives are built around our dinner table.

“In order to make it as homemakers, these people had to be wizards at nurturing relationships and working with family and community.  They needed an intimate understanding of the life-serving economy, where a paycheck is not always exchanged for all services rendered….In addition, the happiest among them [radical homemakers] were successful at setting realistic expectations for themselves.  They did not live in impeccably clean houses on manicured estates.  They saw their homes as living systems and accepted the flux, flow, dirt and chaos that are a natural part of that.  They were masters at redefining pleasure not as something that should be bought in the consumer marketplace, but as something that could be created, no matter how much or how little money they had in their pockets.  And above all, they were fearless.  They did not let themselves be bullied by the conventional ideals regarding money, status, or material possessions.  These families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world.  Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would rippled out for everyone.” (Shannon Hayes in Radical Homemakers)

Here’s how we made life work with just one car that didn’t fit our whole family:

1. We stayed home more.  Plain and simple, we just didn’t go places.  We spent more time reading books, playing in the yard, working in the garden, writing letters, etc.  What did people do before life compelled them away from their hearths?  We did that.

In doing so we learned to say “no” to a lot of good things.  My mother is famous (or infamous?) for saying, “Good is the enemy of best.”  So many things grab for our attention and they are noble things.  But compared to nurturing home life?  How can they really even begin to compare?!

Staying home means lots of time for interesting projects.

2. We walked more. The bank is just a block away.  The library we can get to in 45 minutes on foot.  There’s a grocery store (granted not of the best variety, but a grocery store none-the-less) about three blocks away.  This was fine on some days.  It was more of a challenge when temperatures were in the triple digits.  But, we brought along the water bottles, the bigger double stroller (to carry books and stuff more than the carry kids!) and braved the elements.  It actually felt good to set out to accomplish a trip to the library without using the car.  So very “green” of us.  I confess, that Momma had to stop a few times on the way home and huff and puff and catch her breath.  Our neighborhood is full of hills.  Ever push a stroller laden with books, babies and groceries up a steep incline????  Buns of steel, baby!

3. I woke up early some days and got some errands done before my husband had to leave for work.  Grocery shopping at 7am?  Not my usual routine, but completely do-able.  Run to Target at 8pm?  Again, not how I usually do things, but it can be done!

Waking up earlier means precious time with the Lord and feeding one’s soul. And coffee. More coffee.

4. We leaned on friends. We really did.  There were a few things that we felt were really important not to miss.  So, I gathered up my courage, picked up the phone and asked for a ride.  That was perhaps the most difficult thing of all!  We don’t like asking people for things and prefer to be self-sufficient.  In reality, no one is completely self-sufficient.  In some measure we all have to rely on others–either family and friends or the banks and larger economy.  (Personally, I’d rather rely on people that institutions.)  So many lovely friends came out and picked one of our family members up for one thing or another.  A ride here and there.  Sometimes someone would pick up a kid to take to an event and I’d stay home and make them dinner!  Sometimes they’d let me borrow their car and they’d stay home with the kids for me.  This unique arrangement could only work because we have always made it a priority to invest our lives in people.  We have made a concerted effort to nurture our relationships and community.  So, in our time of need we have the love-banks of our friends full.  We could afford to make little withdrawals.  Does that make sense?  Community has to be nurtured in the good times so that when “life happenings” happen that beautifully woven safety net is there to catch us.

We all have a choice of whom we will rely on.  My husband and I could have decided that we would get a loan and get a new(er) car.  In which case we are not necessarily being self-sufficient.  We are just choosing to put our trust in the dealership or the bank.  Instead, we decided to let our friends help us and to cultivate some patience and humility to ask for help.  Were we being self-sufficient?  No, not really.  But it is a kind of dependency that honored our values and relationships–and we believe it even honored God.

5. We worshiped at home.  We could not get to church in my husband’s car without making multiple trips.  It was the proverbial fox, hen and corn scenario.  And with gas prices, it just was not feasible to be taking that many trips.  So, we live-streamed our church’s Sunday morning worship time or we listened to a podcast from some of our favorite preachers.  A few times we even skyped in to my parents’ church!   Those were really precious times because sometimes as we sat around the breakfast table listening to a sermon we could pause it and discuss it.  My husband and I were able to share so much of our lives and faith with our children as we responded to the teachings.  You don’t get to do that, ordinarily, in a formal church setting.  (We love church.  We’ve been pastors and have planted churches.  So, we have no problems with organized religion.  But, we also recognized that those weeks out of “church” was a gift to our family, for God’s own special purposes.)

6. We relied on the infrastructure of preparedness we had already started to put in place.  We have enough food in our storage that if I couldn’t make it to the store or farmer’s market, we could still eat–quite well, in fact.  We have enough non-food essentials (soap, school supplies, toothpaste, etc.) on hand that life doesn’t come to a screeching halt because we’ve run out of dish-soap or shampoo.  We do so many things ourselves–from household repairs to haircuts, that the need to seek services elsewhere is really small.  We are caught up on our bills and have no debt, so we don’t have to live with the tyranny of things urgent.

We now have our car back and it’s running great.  I wouldn’t necessarily choose to be without a car for six weeks again.  But, we survived and more than that, we thrived, despite not having a car.  We were able to see where our preparedness and community building has served us so well.  We’ve also seen the need to continue these preparations.  What more could we do to be ready?  Where were the holes in our preparedness?  Where were the chinks in our character that we need to seek the Lord for edification?

It’s been a good living life lesson.  But, I’m grateful that it is over.

How do you think you and your family would manage if you lost your transportation today?  Would life fall apart or would it continue semi-normally?  Something to think about….

(Linked to Frugally Sustainable)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Serena Abdelaziz permalink
    October 26, 2012 12:12 pm

    Our lives would be very similar….we went last winter with one car. It made life interesting, but we do not, like you, have a problem with life slowing down. 🙂

  2. October 26, 2012 1:45 pm

    We purchased our second car right before our second child was born, and have been mostly a two-vehicle family since. I look back with wistful remembrance, though, on having only one car. It was different than your scenario, as we all fit into the one car. But, there was still a lot of planning, sharing, taking trips together, etc.

  3. Celeste permalink
    October 26, 2012 4:05 pm

    I voted for the three cars. We usually only use 2 though. The small car for going to town and church and the bigger pickup for going to farmer’s markets. The smaller pickup mostly stays parked but would be backup for the markets if we needed it.

  4. Melinda permalink
    October 31, 2012 5:34 am

    Hanging my head in shame….
    SIX!!!! In our defense, they are all older and paid for. The “newest” two are 2001 models. One of them is sitting uninsured and although it runs, is not in the best condition. We are trying to sell it just to get it off the property. One of them is our 19 year old college/working daughter’s truck. She drives it, but we own it. Then, we have my husband’s truck(2001), my van(2001), hubby’s jeep(1990. He worked extra jobs to buy this. Nothing was taken out of the “family money”). Last but not least, our business truck. My husband is a self employed welder and this is his service truck that carries his welders and work supplies.

    Also in our defense, we live 10 miles from town. There is no store, library, gas station, ANYTHING closer than 10 miles away. However, I completely agree with you! A family CAN manage with one vehicle if the mother and children are able to stay home and don’t have to worry about getting to school and a job. I did it in the past when my kids were little and I was a SAHM.

    Nice post!! Very inspirational! I’m looking at quitting my job in a few months and re-entering my Stay at Home career. It’s posts like this that keep me motivated and feeling more confident in my decision to return home. Thanks.

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