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Day 62: Freedom and The Falling-Apart Car

Greetings all!

I can't quite believe that it's ten days since I blogged - and at the same time it's entirely logical, as this blog is about self-care, and I've been the last person on my own mind for, well, about ten days. I am determined to refocus while chaos rains down around me, like some kind of Zen Master transported to the child-infested suburbs. If that fails, I'll settle for a cup of tea and finding one thing to remove from the house each day, as per my decluttering challenge.

One complication in life recently has been the near-death of our beloved Ford Galaxy. This may seem a very odd topic for a blog, but I love our car for many reasons and faced with the fear of losing it. I've realised how much our various decisions about the car tell us about our lives and our priorities over the last decade or so.

When we found out we were expecting not one but two new babies, I emerged from about three months of shock and denial to start tackling the logistics. Being pregnant with an unexpected extra child entailed not only immense back pain, but a house move, the beginnings of financial disaster and a new car. We also had to buy a king-size bed to accommodate the bump that started hanging off the side of the standard double at about 25 weeks, but that's another story. Thanks to the online Twin Tribe, we settled upon a Ford Galaxy as our target car, and set off on the hunt for the usual second-hand(-but-only-just) model. Very shortly before I gave birth, we brought home our lovely dark blue Galaxy and smugly fitted the three isofix car seats. (Remember the financial ruin? Start imagining that 'we'll use the first child's stuff' idea and then re-buy an extra of everything.) The car was immaculate and for a couple of weeks we vowed to keep it that way.

The car is now ten years old, with pretty much 100,000 miles on the clock, and today is being fitted with a new clutch and flywheel, for a mere £1200, which I am planning to magic out of thin air before 5 p.m. (After all, I have I photo frame inscribed with 'She believed she could, so she did'. If it exists not only as a facebook meme but as a product slogan, it clearly is True and will work.) The first mechanic who looked at the car told us to write it off, and that we couldn't possibly keep driving a car in the state it was in. The second, luckily, looked beyond cosmetics and told us it should have at least another 40,000 miles in it. Yes, it's the car equivalent of the three-legged blind cat with seven feral kittens, but it is our raggedy stray, and it still has wheels and an engine, so we will continue to keep it going. Okay, I'll admit in passing that we don't have a choice, as £1200 is still less than the price of a new 7-seater, but I choose to romanticise this particular series of events and pretend I still have an iota of power over my universe.

Anyway, let me tell you about some of the quirks of our car.

Bits of it have fallen off. We kept them in the boot for a while, but then chucked them away, as they kept falling out in supermarket carparks and at football grounds, the two key places I take the car. 

First it was the tray tables on the back of the driver and passenger seats, which a pre-medication Dog kicked off in a rage. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the driver no longer had to contend with the thumping of the table going up and down while simultaneously trying to ignore the screams of rage from The Dog and the resulting meltdowns from The sound-sensitive Cat, and the sobbing from The Big Boy who couldn't cope with any of it. The rage, meltdowns and sobbing continued, but the thumps in the back were gone. There was a stage of missiles launched forward towards the driver's head, actually, but then we persuaded the kids to throw them sideways in extremis, or to damn well stop it before they got left on the hard shoulder of a motorway.  

Next we lost a small section of bumper. The Galaxy is a 7-seater, so The Big Boy sits in the boot, which protects him a bit from The Cat and The Dog while we're in motion. We always let him out through the boot, as the other option was to remove isofix carseats from the middle row of seating in order to fold the seat forward and provide a more traditional way out. Far too much like effort, I'm afraid. The Big Boy is dyspraxic, which means he doesn't exactly look agile when exiting a boot. I'm not sure if the section of bumper had been loosened during a reversing incident, but every time The Big Boy's foot got stuck on it on his way out, it fell off. In the end we chucked it, despite feeling that it was somehow wrong, or at the very least not something our parents would do, to be throwing out part of our car. But here's the key: our lives are so far from any expectation or anything we might have known before, that we make our own rules. Does the car work without a chunk of bumper? Is it annoying to have a piece of plastic falling out every time we open the rear hatch? Is this car already well beyond saleable condition anyway? Yes. So let's chuck the annoying bumper bit. 

Next there was another bit of plastic. It's really quite shocking that such an expensive piece of machinery is actually just an engine, wheels, a few reinforced doors and a load of cheap plastic. Like a powerful Tonka Toy that never makes it into the Tesco toy sale, no matter how long you wait. (Although if someone could make up a Galaxy/toy sale facebook meme, it would clearly come true.) (Sorry - a bit sick of smug nothingness on sunset backgrounds this week.) So this next piece of plastic was some kind of internal cover for the rear brake light. I think the culprit here may have been over-stuffing of the boot, particularly with bikes. From memory, this piece of plastic went about the same time as the chunk of bumper, although it had lived in the boot for less time, because once you have that initial shift in mindset, you are free to chuck all sorts of stuff. Now there's another truth about our life: there is a huge liberty once you've evaluated 'normal' expectations and decided to ignore them. (Now there's the beginning of a meme I would actually share.)

And on to the handbrake. I don't have enough mechanical knowledge to explain what happened to the handbrake. Some kind of cable broke, which used to connect the button on the side of the handbrake to a release mechanism that allowed you to move the handbrake down. To replace this cable would mean an entirely new handbrake, and another load of money we have failed thus far to magic out of thin air. It turns out, though, that if you take out another shoddy old bit of plastic (classy fake silver this time) that covers the mechanism, you can stick your finger into the depths and shove a bit of - get this! - actual metal upwards to do the same job. Best of all, you can get through an MOT like this. Yes, it takes two hands to release the handbrake, and there was a bit of stalling on hills before I adjusted, but now it's just one of the quirks of our lives. It makes me value the car even more, because only we could still love a car like this, just as I would be the first to take that three-legged cat. As for the fake silver plastic, I don't even remember it getting thrown away, as it was such a non-issue for us.

I could go on. The electrics on one side have gone, although we'll have to fix that in the summer to be able to open a window. There's a line down the side where The Big Boy, while Little, experimented with drawing on the car using a coin. There's a giant dent and scratch where I parallel parked on a bollard, and ten zillion other scratches caused by hawthorn on narrow lines or general carelessness. Another good bit of unrepaired damage was when a member of the extended family closed a garage door across the end of the bonnet. It is, of course, permanently filthy as we are well beyond taking muddy stuff off boys who play football before getting them into the car.

Suddenly I'm not sure how this blog relates to self-care, except that part of my self-care is the feeling that on a tough day the car gives me the freedom to drive somewhere beautiful, or somewhere that a friend lives, or somewhere that is just 'else'. When I go all the way to Cambridge to see a friend, I feel like Thelma and Louise rolled into one (minus the man and the dramatic ending). Trapped in the house over half-term with a boy who was too stressed after his seven weeks of school to go anywhere, I dreamed of escape, but kept remembering that I couldn't drive off into the sunset even if I wanted to, because the car would judder all the way and possibly grind to a complete halt. (I did actually catch a train into the Brighton sunset at the end of the week off, so don't feel too sorry for me.)  And while we've been making the decision about pouring money into keeping the car alive, I've been aware that our decision-making process is one free of expectations of 'normal' or 'generally acceptable'. And that's a gift from my three kids. Yes, sometimes I feel trapped and stuck and lost and sad, and always I feel slightly crazy, but on so many levels, they have set me free.

Thanks boys. You make me crazy, but you make me me.


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