In which P. gets some high school credit hours... or why it's always a good thing to read your car manual

P. and I had a little adventure yesterday. I headed out to pick her up at the stable after her riding lesson, thinking we would easily have enough time to stop by the store and pick up some cat food before I needed to teach a piano lesson. And we would have, if the temperature gauge on the van would have behaved itself. I'm tootling down the road when I notice the gauge is heading toward the red. Even I know this is not good, so have the internal discussion of what to do about this. Stop and not get P.? Then how would I let her know to take the bus. (She had my phone, which meant I didn't have my phone. But it turns out it wouldn't have mattered since it was out of money. Yes, we live in the dark ages over here.) Do I keep going? Am I going to wreck the engine? Of course, I'm still driving as I ponder all these possibilities, so in the end I decided to continue on the stable and revisit the problem then. (I know, all you car people out there are just smacking your heads at the moment.) As I pulled into the parking, the gauge was very definitely in the red and I was happy to be able to stop the van and turn off the engine.

I am not a car person. (You probably already guessed that.) I have no desire to learn about cars. None. Zero. Zilch. I'm quite happy to not have any idea how they work, other than how to make them go and how to fill them up with gas. That is what AAA is for. And husbands. And children. Which is why J. received my first phone call after arriving at the stable (after refilling my phone with money), asking him what we should do. He coached us through opening the hood (P. took care of that), and filling the coolant reservoir with some water we got from the stable (P. took care of this as well.) When I started the car again, the gauge seemed to be hovering where it normally lived, so we decided to head for home. The cat food could wait.

This was great for about four blocks. By this time we were on a fairly busy road, at a time of day when the only thing traffic does is get heavier and heavier. I'm sitting in the van, watching the gauge climb higher and higher, knowing that this was not good. And then I started seeing a new light appear on the dash board. One I had never seen before. This bright red light said something along the lines of, "ENGINE LOSING POWER!" or maybe it was, "HEY STUPID, YOUR CAR IS GOING TO DIE WITHIN THE NEXT TWO MINUTES!" Whatever it was, we were very clearly not making it home and I began to think we wouldn't even make it off the very busy road. At any moment I was going to become that person whose stalled car is responsible for a miles long traffic jam as people tried to get around me. I had just enough presence of mind left (and a lull big enough in the traffic) to get to the right hand lane, hoping to make it to a side street. That seemed reasonable except there was a red light up ahead and though I could see the side street, we weren't moving towards it. Meanwhile, the engine sounds more and more as though it has signed its will and merely has to take its last breath. The small part of my brain that is not panicking decides that turning off the car at this light might just forestall the engine's inevitable demise just a few minutes longer. It worked! I had no idea whether or not the engine would start again once I turned it off, but it did, and we inched along to the side street and were able to park.


Lucky J. got another phone call from me. Poor guy, being the first person I spoke with after this little episode, he got the not-so-happy wife for a moment, but since he is also the calmest person I know, he managed to talk me down from the ledge. (The UN just doesn't know what they are missing here. I think J. would be an excellent negotiator for them.) Thankfully, B. was in J.'s office because he needed to borrow the car to go teach a swimming lesson. The pool was very close to where we were parked, so he agreed to stop and pick-up some coolant and drop it off to us before heading in to work. J. also made sure that my piano student knew I wouldn't be making an appearance.

Through all this, P. was completely calm; you would have thought such things happened to her everyday by her demeanor. She is completely unflappable. While we were waiting for B. to arrive, she decided to clean out the front of the van from all that accumulates up there. She threw out garbage, organized my first aid kits into one, and straightened everything up. Once she had done that, she moved on to the door well where she happened across the manual for the van. (Imagine. I sort of knew it was there. I just don't think about it.) I've mentioned before that P. actually likes cars and is interested in them. In fact, she is working on an automotive course that I found for her. So she sat and read the section of the manual about the coolant system. By the time B. arrived with the coolant, she had figured out what needed to happen and how to do it. My contribution was turning on and off the van and making a funnel for her out of a cup that was in the garbage. (These were incredibly vital and important tasks, I'll have you know.) Once she had gone through all the things she found in the manual, we let the van idle a bit, and once P. checked some tubes that were supposed to feel like something, she pronounced it good, slammed the hood, and we went home.

The trip home was uneventful. I like uneventful. And I still have no desire to understand how a car works.
I wanted to share one more thing with you from this morning. I decided to try another activity with R. that I had tried last spring and then put away again. It was just beyond her ability and understanding. We had seen some gains recently and I thought it might be worth a shot. Here's what she did.

I know this doesn't seem like much, but truly, R. could not manage this six months ago. Today, she was able to follow the lines without lifting her pencil and be pretty darn accurate with her tracing. Six months ago, this totally baffled her. Today, she spent 45 minutes tracing lines on different activity sheets that I had.
Edited to add... J. took the van in today to the car guy, having to stop every little bit to let the engine cool off on the way. Turns out it was the water pump. We now have a nice new water pump and driving should go back to being uneventful.


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