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Tales From the Motherhood: Car problems drive home lessons

My daughter called from work. “My car won’t start. I was low on gas, it’s probably that.” Ah.

Note to self: Tell Holly to keep her tank at least half full. And, oh, tell her about that review I read about how her car may only give her a dozen miles or so to refill the tank once the light comes on, versus my Subaru, which she knows is more forgiving. Phooey. Mom fail.

“OK, I’ll be right there,” I said. I must have a screw loose. I get a kick out of still being needed by my kids. It’s more than that, though. I’m glad this happened now, while I can still teach her such things. She’ll have plenty of years to fend for herself when she’s an adult and off on life’s great adventures. I practically skipped to the garage for the gas can. Note to self. Screw definitely loose. Must find screwdriver.

Decided I’d first try and start the car myself, and we’d buy gas later if I couldn’t.

“I’m gonna walk around Ulta,” she texted. “Tell me when you’re here.”

“Kk. Getting gas can from garage. I’ll bring the Ulta coupon, too, lol,” I said about the one I’d spotted in the heap of store circulars the letter carrier dropped through the mail slot the day before, because, you know, keepin’ it light.

She met me at the car (nothing of interest at Ulta, apparently), and I gave the key a turn. Nothing. Hmmm.

“Let’s get gas,” I said.

“You didn’t bring any?”

“Naw, I figured I’d try and start it first,” I said. You know, in case it was merely a matter of the steering column locking up. “This is fun,” I said as I pulled out of the parking lot. “Like an adventure.”

She wrinkled her brow. Not feeling it. She wasn’t feeling it, either, when I put the gas can in her hands after pulling up to the pump, and wasn’t feeling it several minutes later, after she poured the gas into the tank and the car still wouldn’t start.

That’s when I spotted the light thingy. Oh! Her lights were on, and apparently had been since before her shift began, when there’d been a light drizzle. (I’d leaned out the porch door that morning to remind her to turn them off when she got to work – I speak from experience – but I guess she didn’t hear me.)

“The battery! The battery must be dead!” I said. I rummaged around the back of my car for jumper cables. I’d never jumped a car before, but I’d seen it done. How hard could it be? “Aha! Look what I found?” I’d discovered a fancy-schmancy, car-charger thingy. There’s probably a more technical term, but no matter, I found one! And in my car!

I vaguely recalled my son having put it there months before, after receiving two for Christmas (thank you, Grandma and thank you, Aunt Missy), and laughed when I realized my impulse to call him to coach us through it. But he was out of town, so I handed the charger to Holly (again, not thrilled), and dictated directions from the manual (I wanted her to get a firsthand sense of how to use it) – and it worked! We did it!

I thank you most of all, my dear Noah, for charging one of your new car chargers and putting one in my car. What a good kid. (This one will stay in Holly’s car. Note to self, get another one.) Nice job, team. Big brothers rock.

Holly and I both learned a lesson that day. Check the lights first, then buy gas. (She needed gas for the mower anyway. It was her turn.) I can hardly wait for my next car-related call from my girl. I’ve no idea how to use one yet, but, hey, I bet there's a tire jack in the trunk of her new car, too. 

Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her family. Her column runs regularly in the Kane Weekend section of the Kane County Chronicle. Contact her at

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