My sister and I have always been close, which is a huge comfort to me. Our lives have followed different paths, which sort of gives us a two-for-one deal on the adventures. I think I came out ahead, though, because she had four amazing and wonderful daughters and I get to be their auntie. She gets to help out at the market in London on Saturdays.
When her fourth daughter was born, I offered to help with the other three, an offer gratefully accepted by my sister and brother-in-law. We had some fun and I may even have been helpful. I mean seriously, have you ever tried to look after three small children all at the same time????
One afternoon, I had a phone call from my brother-in-law. The plan had been that he would come home after work, pick us all up and take us to the hospital to see the new baby. But he was held up at work.
“I need you to drive my car,” he said, striking terror into my heart. The car in question was a 1978 Chevrolet Caprice.
Here are some of the things I hate: driving, driving in rush hour traffic, driving in rush hour traffic in a big city and having to make left turns while driving in rush hour traffic in a big city. Add in the three precious bundles in the back seat who would be relying on me to safely make left turns while driving them in rush hour traffic in a big city and you have a certain amount of panic.
John gave me clear instructions on how to get to the hospital – including where to make the left turns to pick up the submarine sandwiches that he had already ordered and which would be ready for pick up when I got there. He also gave me instructions on how to start his car. See, it was a well-cared-for vintage Caprice and he was very particular about how we all treated it.
I got the girls into their car seats, which took far longer than it should. Is that part of the childbirth classes people go to? How to give birth to a baby and bring it home safely afterwards? This part of life is shrouded in mystery to me.
So we were already running late when I very carefully, according to John’s instructions, inserted the key in the ignition, depressed the pedal and then released it and turned the key. “It will start instantly,” he had assured me.
Instead, it went “Yadada yadada thbthbt!”
“Hang on kids!” I said cheerily to the back seat, in an attempt to hide my mounting panic.
I took a deep breath. Depressed the pedal. Turned the key. “Yadada yadada thbthbt!”
“Crap,” I muttered, starting to feel a little warm.
Another careful attempt. Another failure.
“Shit!” I was starting to sweat now.
“Hang on, hang on. Let’s try again….”
“What the hell is wrong with this damned thing????”
“I think you have to put your foot on the gath,” said seven-year-old Janet from the back seat, helpfully.
“I’m putting my bloody foot on the bloody gas!!!! Sweetie.”
One more try and one more fail.
I hurled myself back in the seat, remembering John’s dire warnings about flooding the engine. “If that happens,” he said, “you’ll just have to wait for it to clear.”
I started counting to a hundred. And as I did so, I looked around the interior of the ridiculously big car I was attempting to drive. The kids were so far away in the back seat, they might as well have been in another car. If someone had wanted to get into the passenger seat, I would not have been able to open the door from where I was sitting. The thing was a behemoth. And the pedals…. I looked down at my feet.
The pedals were not at all where I would have expected them to be, where they would have been in any normal sized car. My foot, in fact, was and always had been on the brake.
“Oh for f…..” I let forth a stream of very loud obscenities, forgetting for a moment, the precious bundles, who were soaking up every word of new vocabulary in the back seat.
“OK!” I said, sweatily. “Let’s try this again!”
I moved my foot over three feet to the right, depressed the correct pedal, turned the key and the engine sprang thrillingly, throbbingly to life. A few tense moments as we backed the most ridiculously big vehicle I had ever, to that point in my life driven, out of the driveway and then we were moving cautiously forward again.
“Sorry about the swearing,” I said, while negotiating the road, trying to be sure neither side of the behemoth was driving across a neighbour’s lawn. “I’m not used to your Dad’s car….”
And if he finds out how bad I am at it I’ll never drive it again. Nor will I ever be allowed to look after these kids after all the new things I’ve taught them today, I thought.
But Janet saved the day.
“It’th OK Aunt Barb,” she said. “Mummy uthes thothe wordth, too.”