It’s been several years since our family has gone for such an extended period of time without a car. While a car is not an absolute necessity (as we’re learning once again) given our culture and location, having one sure does make life a lot easier. Here are some of the things I’ve been re-learning as we cope with being without a vehicle again.
1) Realize that public transportation is a blessing – and it also has real limitations. Think of this the next time you see people waiting at a bus stop in broiling 90 degree heat or a freezing cold rain. When you take public transportation, you have the following blessings: someone else gets you where you need to go while you read, think, or people-watch. But you must work your life around the schedule of pick-ups and drop-offs. That means being on time to catch things (hurry! hurry!) or dawdling somewhere while you have an extended wait for the next one, no matter what the weather. Every errand you run will take longer when you factor in stops, waits, and transfers. And some places are nigh onto impossible to get to on public transportation, or will require a good bit of walking even when you take buses. Which leads me to #2….
2) Be humble enough to ask for rides or to borrow a car. On occasion, something you need to do will be important enough that you can’t drop it from your schedule even if it’s impossible to get there via a bus or buses. The sweet girl’s psychologist appointments fall in these parameters for us right now. She is making great progress with her anxiety issues and those regularly scheduled meetings are important to her (and our) health and well-being. We literally feel we can’t drop them from our schedule. But we can’t easily get there in any way, shape or form without a car. God has blessed us with a neighbor who has allowed us to borrow her’s each week. Which leads me to #3…
3) Consolidate your errands. If you only have a car for a couple of hours a week, you begin to think long and hard about what you can do with it while you have it. It doesn’t really matter if your schedule is inconvenienced, you may need to use that brief window of time to pick up something at a store you can’t easily get to any other way. Which leads me to #4…
4) Get creative about meal-planning. Meal-planning is highly affected by what stores you can access. We had grown used to shopping at a handful of stores each week/month to get the best deals we could for our meager food budget. Sometimes when you don’t have a car, that’s not possible. You make the best choices you can make given what you have in front of you. That may mean buying brands you don’t prefer, either generics that may or may not be the quality you’d like or sometimes buying name-brands for higher-prices because that’s what a store has. You will get creative, I promise you. You will discover that you can meal plan around grocery aisles you hardly used before in the one store that you can get to easily. You will discover new impetus to cook more from scratch – a good thing, but sometimes time consuming. (Again, don’t be afraid to take time. Our culture is so enamored of speed. You’ve got to step outside that mind-set because speed can’t be a priority.) And a side note here: the next time you’re tempted to think critical thoughts about someone who is poor who seems to be making less than optimum choices about how to spend their money or what to eat, remember that sometimes their choices are more limited than your choices. People can only do what they can do given what they can access.
5) Be aware you’re going to get into good shape. We’re walking more than we’ve walked in months just to get where we need to go. The store, the bank, the post office, our church. Some of those we walk to a lot anyway, but not all the time, which has become necessary. Sometimes you will walk those places carrying heavy bags. Invest in good canvas bags. Be prepared for neck and shoulder aches. D and I have been realizing we’re not even in as good a shape as we thought we were (and we didn’t think we were that great). My legs and ankles feel perpetually tired right now. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just something to get used to in the new normal.
6) Decide what hills you want to die on. For instance, in our family, we use the public library two towns over a lot…for pleasure, for homeschool, for teaching and writing research, for after school program planning. We get a lot of books, some of them big and heavy. Guess what? Without a car, we tote those books on the bus. I tell myself : decide now if you need seven things on the hold shelf this week or could honestly get by with three.
7) Give yourselves lots and lots of grace. In our family, that means being willing to be as flexible as possible and to live with other people’s stresses. Given the sweet girl’s issues with OCD (and her weather-related anxieties) this is not always easy. There may be times we really can’t all get where we think we need to go in a given time frame. Guess what? It’s not the end of the world. Learn to do without. Learn to compromise. Learn to be thankful for whatever the day holds (a good lesson no matter what).
8) Stay expectant. We’re still looking for ways to afford our car repairs. I find myself on tip-toes as I pray for open doors for more work or even an unexpected gift. We know the weather is going to get colder in the coming weeks; we know our situation isn’t the easiest for our family right now and is likely to get more challenging when that happens. We also trust God knows our needs, not just in terms of getting from point A to point B, but how much stress our little family unit can manage. This kind of situation gives you lots of exercise – not just physical exercise for your muscles, but spiritual exercise. Letting ordinary stresses deepen us, make us more grateful, humble, empathetic and hopeful is a good thing. Learning what we can live without is a good thing. Leaning ever deeper on God and trusting him to provide is a very good thing indeed.