Journey to the Great White North

I was asked to tell this story for today’s post.  Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on what you like, I suppose), there isn’t really some big meaningful end to the story.  At least not like some.  Though I did learn a thing or two along the way rather early in my foster “career.”

So as has been mentioned I do like old Volkswagens.  I think it is very important to have something that floats your boat and gives you a way to relax and not think about stressful things for a little bit.  For me, it is the old VWs.  There is a great feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing up some project I’ve been working on, whether that is fixing/replacing some 40 year old part that finally broke, adding some neat accessory that makes it more functional, or making a change that makes things look a little nicer.  There is just something about finishing up a project and the sense of accomplishment that helps me mentally escape the day to day stress that can come along with fostering high-need kids.

A wonderful benefit of the old VWs is that they also provide a platform for different activities with the kids.  The camper Bus has taken quite a few kids on camping trips, many for the first time in their lives.  They have also been used to teach about various mechanical things along the way, as well as providing stick-shift-driving lessons. Long story short, I’ve been able to use my love of these old VWs as a way to provide lessons and experiences for the boys that they otherwise may never have happened.

Due to a mishap, I needed an engine for the camper Bus.  I spent several weeks searching the internet high and low to find what I needed.  Eventually, I did find one available, and it was about half the price of anything else I had seen. The seller was honest and answered all my questions, and it came with lots of extra parts for spares.

The only catch was it was in Canada, and I live in Kansas.

I looked into various shipping options but as it turns out, shipping a large several-hundred pound chunk of metal is rather expensive. After doing a little math to calculate the cost of diesel fuel, food, and hotel rooms I determined it would actually be less expensive to drive north and meet the seller than have it shipped.  Plus it would give us the opportunity for a fun trip!

The seller agreed to drive south a little ways and meet us just inside the United States in Port Huron, Michigan.  A mere 948 miles/14 hours from my house.

As luck would have it, the boys were due for a Friday off of school.  So that morning we loaded up in my “regular” car, a 2002 VW Golf TDI, which, if you aren’t familiar, is a semi-compact 4-door hatchback.  (AKA “rather small for 3 adult-sized guys to ride in for 14 hours straight.”)

As we headed towards the Great White North (AKA “Canada”) we encountered some pitfalls along the way, primarily related to the fact that this trip happened in early February.  (AKA “the middle of winter.”)

Because I knew that most teenagers don’t like riding in the car for 14 hours straight, I had located a hotel in Port Huron that actually had an indoor pool. I figured that the eventual promise of swimming would make up for the long car ride.  I thought I had it all planned out.

What I didn’t think about or really plan for was snow! Just as we crossed the border into Indiana, it started snowing, and the rate of snowfall grew the closer we got to Indianapolis.

At one point, we were inexplicably stopped on the interstate for about 30 minutes.  Bored, we got out of the car and had a snowball fight, right there on the “fast” lane of I-70. We never did see the actual cause of the stoppage, so I can only presume that it was idiots not knowing how to drive in snow.  This stoppage changed the timing of the trip such that we hit Indianapolis right as rush-hour started.  Only this time with about 6 inches of snow on the ground. These conditions resulted in it taking 5 hours to travel 100 miles.  If you do the math, that works out to an average of 20 miles per hour.  (AKA 32 kilometers per hour for our Canadian friends.)

[Side note: I’ve had the displeasure of driving through Indianapolis a few times. Every single one of them has featured crappy weather, easily the worst weather of the given trip. I don’t know what it is about that city, but those are the facts.]

By the time we got through Indianapolis, we were all so tired and frustrated that, at a rest area, I took a picture of myself flipping off a map of Indiana.

[To all my Indiana friends: it’s not you, it’s me.]

This also meant that when we finally arrived at the hotel, the pool was long-closed for the night.

The next morning (which happened to be sunny, bright and beautiful, if cold), we met up with the seller of the engine.  We strapped the engine to the hitch-mounted cargo carrier and took off,  but not before getting a picture taken of the three of us standing on frozen Lake Huron.

Great White North

I had decided to take a different route home in order to avoid Indianapolis and their snow.  Unfortunately, it started snowing once again.

Determined to not have another 100-miles-in-5-hours section of driving, I decided to break with the plans and get another hotel, much earlier in the trip back.  This time it had an open pool.  That turned out to be a great decision as we enjoyed several hours unwinding by dunking each other in the pool.

Finally, on the third day of this long, grueling trip, we were relatively close to home when I stopped for what I hoped would be the final time to fuel up and get some snacks.  A few minutes after hopping back on the interstate, the kid sitting in the back seat pointed out that the kid sitting in the front seat wasn’t wearing his seat belt.

Now, I grew up in a family where wearing seat belts was emphasized.  I once was grounded from driving for an entire MONTH because I let two friends share a seatbelt, because they were fighting over who got to sit in the front seat.  (I still think that was way too long, Mom and Dad!)

That aside, I do acknowledge the many reasons I needed to make sure he was belted in–from safety to the law to foster care regulations.

So I told him to put it on.

He refused.

So I pulled over to the shoulder and told him to put it on again.

He refused.

So I told him we weren’t going anywhere until he put it on.

He refused.

So I turned off the car to emphasize my point.

He refused.

So I also turned off the radio and we sat in silence.

He refused.

So we sat there.  After about 15 minutes, I said, frustrated, “This is ridiculous.  Why are we still sitting here?  Put on your seatbelt so we can go!”

He refused, saying some kind of nonsense about how it was his right to decide if he was going to wear the belt or not.

So we sat there for another 15 minutes or so.

Finally, a highway patrolman stopped to check on why there was a small car with an engine hanging off the back pulled over to the side of the road.  Conveniently, he walked up to the passenger side of the car.  I rolled down the window and explained the situation.  The officer looked down at the kid and calmly said, “Son, don’t you think you could put that on so you can get on your way?”

This time, he did put the belt on, while muttering under his breath, “I’m never wearing this G-D thing again…” (Only he didn’t say “G-D.”)

We made it the last three or four hours of the trip without incident.

So here’s the point of all this, what I learned while sitting there on the side of the road.

This kid had only been with me for a few weeks by the time this triphhappened, and I already could tell he was rather, shall we say, bull headed.  So I knew that it was important to always mean what I say and say what I mean, and to show that I would follow through to the best of my ability.

The truth is there were many times during that half hour on the side of the road that I was considering saying, “screw it” and taking off.  But I knew that the moment I did that, I was going to lose him and any ability I may have had to have any semblance of control in the house.  I knew that by giving up in that moment to my frustration, I would show that if the kid just fought back against any consequence for a little while, then he’d get what he wanted.

(I knew this proved effective when several months later, the kid who was in the backseat said to a then-new other kid who was begging for something, “He already said no.  He’s not going to change his mind so quit asking.”)

I certainly know there are many, many times in fostering (and parenting in general) that flexibility is essential for everyone’s survival.  But it is also important that the kids learn to trust us, and I believe a part of that is also helping them know that you will follow through with what you say you will do, whether it is some sort of promise you’ve made or a consequence for a behavior.

Here’s the other genius piece of advice I have from this story:  As a nod to learning budgeting and also to avoid begging for drinks and snacks at each stop along the way, I gave each boy a relatively generous allowance for road snacks before we got out of the car at the first stop.  I explained that they could use it (or save it) however or whenever they wanted, but that was all they were getting and they were in charge of it.  Worked great!


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