I’m going to tell you up front; this is a story about being disappointed.
This weekend I was headed to the Wild & Free homeschool conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, and I was really, really excited. I choose this particular conference in order to hear two of my favorite homeschool voices, Susan Wise Bauer and Sarah Mackenzie, speak, and because I like the encouraging ethos of the Wild & Free community.
But there were so many other fun things about the trip, namely, a weekend away, all by myself. Two six-hour road trips alone! (you know you’re in a desperate place when you get excited about those car rides). A cozy room at the Woodlands Hotel in Colonial Williamsburg. The collected wisdom and humor of a big group of women who educate their children at home. The opportunity to learn new things, ask lots of questions, take notes furiously, be inspired in our journey.
But alas, all of this was not to be.
I hit the road mid-morning on Friday, drove three peaceful hours, and the car began making alarming noises and smoking. I smelled something burning and quickly pulled to the shoulder of I-95 North, and switched it off, trying not to panic. I called my husband, my father-in-law, and then the police department in the town I was nearest because I was so close to the white line of the interstate that my little Honda Civic shook with each passing semi-truck. I climbed over into the passenger seat. At first I kept the car doors and windows shut tight and locked, but began sweating so much I had to crack the passenger door. I tried to relax.
I waited an hour and a half (why did I wait that long? I can’t tell you, it’s kind of a blur, I called the police department to check on my request and they promised they would send someone). We haven’t had good experiences with our car insurance roadside assistance program, so I finally called the police department back and asked for the number of a reputable towing service. I made another call.
I spoke to a man named Wayne, Jr., told him my location as best I could from Google Maps, and waited some more. I felt okay, really, until my phone battery started to die. Then I started to panic. What if he didn’t come either? I imagined myself locking up my car and setting out on foot to the nearest exit to try and borrow a phone. I was very scared.
But Wayne showed up just in time, and was as nice as could be. He sent me to climb up into his truck cab (and like a typical mom, I couldn’t wait to tell my boys I got to ride in a tow truck), loaded up my poor little gray car. And we were off.
My body finally started to relax because I was with someone who could help me, but I ached all over from sitting tense at the side of the road for 2 and a half hours.
David offered to load the kids in the van and come pick me up, and I know he would’ve. I know. But it was such a long drive for them, and part of me wanted to do this by myself. I wanted to be the kind of person who can break down on the side of the Interstate, and figure out what to do. I wanted to be brave.
We arrived at a little family-owned towing garage in small-town, North Carolina, and I crowded into the tiny office with members of the family, all who work there. I plugged in my phone charger behind their cash register. Ravenously hungry at 4 p.m. after nothing more than a handful of nuts since breakfast, I nibbled from a basket of Halloween candy. They were friendly and sympathetic, especially when I received the bad news that I wouldn’t be driving my car any more that day or that weekend.
After a phone call to David, I decided to try and rent a car and make it to Virginia. I’d miss the evening conference sessions but would be there for Saturday. I called the car rental company, who assured me a car would be waiting for me at 4:30.
Wayne’s father, Wayne Sr., owner of the garage, then chauffeured me and my suitcase in his pearl-white Cadillac Escalade down the street to the car rental office, and insisted on waiting until I got my car. But inside I was told they actually didn’t have any more cars in the lot and there was a waiting list for the weekend.
This is when I almost started crying. But I didn’t!
Wayne, Sr. drove me to the nearest hotel, which was booked. He drove me to two more hotels until I found a decent-looking one with a room available.
As I stood in the lobby of a homogeneous chain hotel in a town in North Carolina I didn’t even know existed, I felt certain that I wouldn’t be traveling to Virginia this weekend. I was doubtful that a rental would be available Saturday morning (it wasn’t), and the conference ended at 3:00 on Saturday. I checked in and walked the silent hallway to my room and lay down on the bed and cried.
But I needed to pull myself together and jump up because I wanted to find dinner before it got dark, since I would be walking. So I made my way across two deserted parking lots and a frontage road to a dark-looking steakhouse, neon signs flashing in the windows, country music blaring.
Everyone there had compassion in their eyes (did I look that deflated?) and called me “darlin'” and said I looked hungry. The service was excellent. And, since I hadn’t eaten lunch, I devoured a pepper-jack smothered burger, fries, and basket of rolls in about ten minutes, and it was all delicious.
I made my way in the dusk back to my hotel and cancelled my reservation for two nights at a much nicer hotel in Williamsburg. I poured a plastic cup of the wine I brought and took a hot bath, which was very nice, and then huddled over my phone watching Call the Midwife on Netflix. And that was my evening.
Of course David felt awful. My family felt awful. I felt awful.
I stayed the night there, and David and the kids drove to pick me up by check-out the next morning, spending their Saturday making a six-hour road trip instead of morning cartoons and the hike they’d planned on. Wayne Jr. will drive our car to a garage on Monday and let us know the verdict, and we’ll go back to fetch it hopefully this week.
And that’s the story of my sort-of-getaway.
You know what?
It was just one of those things. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan. Sometimes we get disappointed.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson wrote, “There are a thousand, thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
I would rearrange her words to fit my weekend by saying, “There are a thousand, thousand reasons to give thanks, even on disappointing days.”
I don’t say that to be trite. I’m sad and frustrated. But also. It’s not the end of the world. I have a home to come back to, a family who loves me, other road trips, other years to attend homeschool conferences. Everything’s going to be fine.
And so, I conclude with a few more of my thanks:
— Three hours of driving and listening to Andrew Peterson’s newest album (which may just be my favorite).
— An unhurried phone chat with my friend Carrie.
— The brilliant-blue day, leaves touched with orange and gold, and the way the sun streaked across the road ahead of me.
— I’m in good health, my family is in good health.
— We have two cars, so that David and the kids could drive to pick me up Saturday.
— A husband who mourns when I mourn, who encouraged me to go on this adventure in the first place.
— The startling kindness of complete strangers.
— A night away from the routine of my normal-life, the stillness of my hotel room, a good night’s sleep.
— Amelie, “We are going to rescue Mommy, and we won’t stop until we find her!”
— Four bright, loud little people racing through the doors into the hotel lobby, knocking me over with their hugs.
— Judah, “Mom, I’m really sorry your car broke and you had to miss your conference.”
— We have money to pay for things like a towing service and car repairs.
— A van with a DVD player.
— A car for David to borrow while ours is in the shop.
— A Saturday afternoon of work — laundry and grocery-shopping and meal-planning — and now it’s Sunday and everything is ready for the week.
— My parents picked up the kids this morning and took them to their church and out to lunch.
— Showing up at my church as the service started, worshiping without the distractions of little whispers and wiggly kids.
–Three of my favorite hymns sung.
— Talking to all the people I wanted to during coffee hour. Sipping coffee. Finishing conversations.
— Returning to a quiet house.
— The conference sessions were recorded, so I’ll still be able to hear them.
— I am safe.
— God is good. He loves me very much.