In life, sometimes it’s better to wait a bit to see how things roll, rather than hitting the brakes at every turn.
One Saturday morning we were driving on the highway in our Kia Minivan. I was at the wheel, my wife Emily was riding shotgun and all four children were in the back. As we drove, we noticed an annoying clicking/rubbing sound coming from the front of the car.
Emily and I noticed it at almost the same time because, without saying a word, we both started moving our hands around the dashboard trying to find the source of the rattle.
I was concerned that some bit had been left unsecured from a recent adventure inside the dash, trying repair the air conditioning. Unfortunately, we covered the whole of the front console but did not manage to isolate the noise.
In frustration, Emily leaned back into her seat… it was then that she saw it. Outside, stuck between the rear edge of the hood and the windshield was a large, crispy, brown maple leaf. Once we saw it, it was easy to correlate its movement in the wind with the noise we were hearing. We were going sixty-five on the highway, so doing anything about the leaf right then was both unnecessary and unsafe.
Five minutes later we pulled off the highway and as we sat at a red light, Emily lowered the window, reached out and removed the offending piece of foliage.
At the time we saw the problem it was unwise to act. The risk of acting immediately far outweighed the benefit of doing so, however, when the first opportunity to correct things appeared… we took it.
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and Emily was thirty-six weeks along with Lawrence, our fourth child.
As we headed into the crazy holiday season, we recognized that once number four came along, the children would have us outnumbered 2:1. We decided to get away for a weekend.
My parents agreed to watch the other three (ages three, two and one at the time) and after dropping them off on Friday afternoon, we headed west in my forest-green Saab 900 convertible. Our destination was the quaint hamlet of Niagara On The Lake, a mere 100 miles away. Niagara On The Lake is a little slice of Western Europe on the Canadian side of the Niagara River where it meets Lake Ontario.
One of the great things about living in western New York is you can easily leave the country for the weekend. It may only be Canada, but crossing an international border has a way of making your “little getaway” seem that much farther away from your regular life.
Our plan was simple… do all the things that you couldn’t possibly do with three small children.
We arrived at the hotel, dropped our bags and headed into town in search of a fun and delicious dinner. We found a cozy pub with a roaring fire and a live acoustic guitar player. Even more fun, was the fact on the second floor of the pub they were hosting a “Henry VIII” dinner-theater. So as we ate our dinner and enjoyed the ambiance, every so often we’d hear a roar or stomping of feet from the bawdy event happening fifteen feet overhead. Fun, fun, fun.
We retired to our hotel, slept in as long as someone weeks away from giving birth can, and arose for a hearty breakfast.
After our bellies were full, we decided to head down the road to the casinos in Niagara Falls. We spent a couple hours playing slots, video poker, and a little blackjack. All things they don’t let you do with three kids in tow.
On the way back to Niagara On The Lake we stopped at a few wineries along the tree-lined road that twists with the curves of the river. We pulled out of the last winery, and as we enjoyed the character of the road in the bright December sun, we came up over a rise and hit a mild bump. As we hit the bump I heard an unnatural CLUNK from the back of the car.
I turned to see if Emily had heard it, but it was clear that she hadn’t. I said nothing.
We returned to the hotel parking lot and headed out to do some Christmas shopping in the picturesque little shops of town. I did not have a chance to look under the car.
Here’s the thing. Men in general, are pretty good at compartmentalizing things. By that I mean we can isolate one thing from another. Women, on the other hand, tend to let things bleed together. I’m not saying one way is better than another, just different. There is a popular speaker named Mark Gungor who covers this beautifully in a 13-minute video, though the first 4 minutes are all you really need to see.
I was not about to let the CLUNK I heard bleed into the rest of our weekend.
We shopped, had a little lunch and shopped some more. By mid-afternoon, we decided it was nap time. Again, something you can’t do with small children around.
As we walked back across the hotel parking lot, I was able to take a look at the back of my car from a distance and as I did, it was easy to see what had caused the clunk. My muffler was hanging a mere inch off the pavement. Uh-oh.
I took in the information and went to take a nap with my wife.
We had a lovely little snooze. We woke up in plenty of time to watch some stupid TV, take showers and get dressed for our 7:30 dinner reservations. We walked two blocks to the restaurant, had a lovely meal and came back to our hotel to enjoy our final kid-free night of sleep.
The next morning while Emily was in the shower, I grabbed the wire coat hangar that had held the dress shirt I wore to dinner and sprinted out to the car to execute a quick-fix on my exhaust system. All it took was a few well-placed hooks and twists and we were good to go … at least for the 100-mile drive home. The last of three “S” shaped metal hangers on the muffler had rusted through leaving it supported by only the exhaust pipe. A new Saab muffler was in my future.
We returned home without incident, swapped the Saab for the minivan and went to my parent’s house to pick up the kids.
After the three wee ones were cozy in their beds that night, I told Emily what had happened and what I had done to get us through. She smiled and without hesitation said, “I’m so glad you did that, if I had known, it would have ruined the whole weekend. I wouldn’t have been able to relax until it was fixed.”
Three days later the new muffler arrived and on Thanksgiving morning I put a pair of safety goggles on my 2-year-old son Lewis, and we crawled under the car together to do manly repair work. If you ever need to cement your status as a god to your two-year-old, bust out a grinder and cut off a few rusty bolts. The sparks alone will elevate you to a deity in the eyes of any young boy.
The next time the unexpected pops up in your life (and it will); make sure to not react too quickly. From a rattling leaf to a clunking muffler, every little challenge does not require immediate attention, in fact, most are best left alone for a bit.
No matter what it is, several deep breaths and a little analysis will take you from, “oh crap” to, “I’ve got this.” Just take in the information as it is presented to you and… let it ride.
Originally published on The Penny Collector