Three years ago, I watched as my midsized sedan was towed away from the parking lot of my stepson’s preschool. My stepson was next to me clutching his crafts from the day and my three-year-old daughter stood next to me in a leotard and tutu, ready to go to ballet class. As I ran towards the men rigging my car to a tow truck I waved my hands wildly to get their attention, assuming that I had somehow parked incorrectly in the dirt area between the middle school and the preschool entrance. They were unbothered by me and undeterred in their task. It didn’t seem to matter that I had two small children beside me, and one in my tummy that was less than three months from being born.
“This is a repossession,” they said. I begged for them to let me drive home first, where the car had been parked the entire day before heading to get my son. They continued to pull my car onto the tow truck belt. I asked if I could at least grab my car seats before I was left stranded in a parking lot with my little kids. They said they would pull around the corner and I could get the car seats and my other belongings there. Another mother pulled up, concerned, and told us to hop in her car. She took me around the corner and the tow truck carrying my car was gone. I had to pay $150 a few days later to get the personal items, including car seats, from my vehicle. My new mom friend drove us all home — the kids illegally — and told me not to worry or feel bad. Everything would be okay, she reassured me.
To say this was a low point in my life is an understatement. I was humiliated. I didn’t know what to say to my kids who thought some mean men had stolen our car. I wasn’t sure how I would explain this to my husband of less than a year who had no clue I had fallen behind on my car payments on the vehicle I purchased new a few years before we got married. My father-in-law was coming over for dinner — what was I going to say to him?
When the dust settled, and we thought long and hard about what it would cost to get my vehicle back (plus what I still owed on it – which was a lot), we decided it was easier to just walk away. Not better necessarily. But at that point, easier. We vowed to save up enough to buy something else small that we could pay cash for once the baby was born and we could get back on our feet. I knew what a repossession meant for my credit but at that point, the thought of being rid of that debt in the immediate was a welcome relief.
|When there were only three, circa Christmas 2010|
The baby was born. The money we intended to save was slowly spent on diapers, on medical bills, on feeding our growing other three kids. Our family of six did not even fit all at the same time in the SUV my husband drove, which only sat five. We were both working from home though and within walking distance of my son’s Kindergarten, and biking distance of the preschool. Our other kids were home with us all the time. So we decided back then to just wait on adding in another vehicle. We didn’t know how long we’d wait, or what we would be able to afford when we finally made that purchase. But instead of adding another financial stressor, we vowed to make one (too small) car work for us for as long as we needed it to and to find creative ways to make it so.
We ended up waiting three years before breaking our one-car family streak.
Over that time, we *almost* purchased a few vehicles but never went through with signing on the dotted line. As more time passed, we missed a second vehicle even more. Every few months I’d research new car reviews online and post on Facebook, asking for minivan or SUV recommendations. Nothing was ever moving enough to get us to move, so we kept saving, and waiting.
Last week, after adding yet one more baby to the household a few months ago, we finally bought that second car (with a family loan) and it is nicer than we ever could have purchased back then.We spent a lot of time reading car reviews and
Frankly, I would marry this minivan if I was young and single. But as much as I loved loading up the entire family for that first spin together to get ice cream, a part of me felt conflicted. We’ve worked hard these past few years to pay down debt, and to build up our income, and to EARN this new minivan. But in that time frame, we’ve also changed. Being a one car family is part of our identity now, and not just in physical terms. Our habits and functionality as a family hinge on that premise.
|Four older kids checking out the new minivan (not in motion)|
So while I’ll never turn down a chance to load up the car seats in my minivan and head to the library (good grief I’m old), there are some lessons from our one car family history that I hope stick with me, like…
One Car Family Lessons Learned
- We drive too much. Even when something is clearly within walking distance, we drive – but why? Living in a warm-all-year climate is even more of a head scratcher when it comes to the “why” of car dependency. The elementary school, the library, three playgrounds, the Atlantic Ocean (with public beach access), AND a CVS are all within 1 mile of our home and accessible via sidewalks. By adding on just a few more minutes, and minimizing the gear/kid stuff we actually need to take, walking is just as convenient as driving in many cases for our family. I realize that not all families have this luxury but as a culture, we don’t try hard enough to walk/bike/skateboard (you name it). Minivan or not – I commit to keep trying to avoid driving either of our vehicles unless absolutely necessary.
- It’s okay to stay home sometimes. We saved a lot of money by only having one car — and even more by having a car we didn’t all fit inside. We stacked our errands for the weekend when we had less children and found fun things to do at home together when we were all in the same place. We also had to say “no” to invitations sometimes (but not very often) when we couldn’t all get there, or the one car was in use doing something else more important. We learned to have fun right where we were, and to not waste time/money/gas always jumping in the car to go somewhere else.
- It’s okay to ask other people for help sometimes. Most days, my husband or I could handle school drop-offs and pickups while the other stayed home with the smaller kids. On the days when he had the car at work, and storm clouds started to roll in around 3 p.m. (as they predictably do for a few months each year on Florida’s Space Coast), I had a few moms I knew I could count on to pick up my kids and bring them home safely to me. On holidays, my in-laws helped us drive our big family the two hours to their home so we could celebrate together. My kids are my responsibility, but people are willing to help out sometimes when they see you trying your hardest but still unable to make it all work.
For the time being, it looks like there are going to be two cars in our driveway and it is what is best for our family at this stage. The extended one car family experience has taught me a lot about creativity though. Perhaps it had a rough start, but it will always be a time in our family history that I cherish.
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