Today the heat index in Atlanta was 105 degrees. Apparently not quite as high as yesterday, but still, that's HOT in my book. And I'm 9 months pregnant. Those little internal heaters are not much of a boon this time of year as they are in winter.
In my wisdom and in spite of the heat I met a friend and her little boy, as planned, at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens this morning. It was hot, but it wasn't too bad yet. The thermometer only hit 90 at 11am (!). The walk was shady, the conversation stimulating and the company pleasant. The boys wanted to walk around a whole bunch which I was hoping would tire them out. Plus, they got to play in the sunflower fountain at the Children's Garden -- a perfect day to get drenched. I got my share, too, since helping them change into dry clothes only served to get me soaked! It was a good morning, but by the time we headed home for lunch it was about 12:30. I had brought snacks, but they don't let you eat in the Gardens unless you buy their food (a major drawback in my book), so I let them eat grapes while the car was cooling off. At this point, I was trying to stick to my rule of "No eating in the van... at least while Mommy is driving."
You may remember we got a minivan quite recently. As in, a little over three weeks ago. (I still have yet to post that story...but I'm working on it!) Well, I am used to driving a little Civic, so sometimes parking and other maneuvers are a bit unwieldy in such a large vehicle. Apparently, I had such issues today as we were leaving the Gardens. Just before we reached the booth to pay for parking, I heard the unmistakable sound of the van hitting a curb. Perfect.
I thought to myself as we pulled away from the ticket booth, "It sounds fine, it can't be that bad." Then Jacob noticed a "bump, bump" sound as we turned onto Piedmont Avenue. At first, I thought it was just the condition of the road because of all the recent construction. I drove slowly, but as I turned onto 14th street, it became worse. My fears were beginning to be realized. I started looking for a place to pull over to the right. There was none! I was in the middle of downtown Atlanta in the middle of the lunch hour, plus there were construction cones everywhere, blocking access to the side. Strangely, I kept thinking if I could just make it to Einstein's on the left, or across the bridge... Then, I noticed two women motioning to me from the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and heard, "Hey, do you know you have a flat tire? It's on the rim! There's a Shell station not far up." "On the right?" "Yes!" So we pulled slowly into a parking space at the gas station and I called Gaines and he reminded me about our AAA membership. Ah, yes. I blame pregnancy brain for my lack of coherent thought.
So, there I was, 9 months pregnant with two kids under the age of five in a van with a tire that had been almost completely shredded, waiting in 100+ degree heat in the middle of July, with nothing but some snacks to sustain us well after lunchtime. I checked the tire (Yep, it was a goner! I was praying the rim wasn't damaged from driving on it so many blocks!), made sure the kids had water and figured a NutriGrain bar, some grapes and pretzels might hold them over until we could get home. There's no way I was going into the Shell station with those two to get something just for me, so I helped finish off the grapes.
Just as I'm deciding that I'm in pretty rotten circumstances, a lady walked up to the van. I had seen her and a man try to use the pay phone. They were pushing a double stroller with two kids inside who couldn't be more than 3. She approached and said that she and her family were evicted this morning from their apartment and only had enough money to pay for one night in a motel. She said her kids were hungry and asked if I had anything to give them. Well, leave it to God to give us a little of His perspective now and then when we start feeling sorry for ourselves. So I rummaged around in my bag for whatever little food I had left and handed over a meager fare of cookies and fruit snacks. She thanked me and walked back to the shade of the gas station overhang. And my heart just dropped. What could I do? Where could I send them to get help? So, I got out of my air-conditioned van (which I had the liberty to leave running while waiting for the AAA guy on this hot day). I asked her if I could call some folks and find someone willing to help. I thought of our old church not far away and of people I knew who lived downtown who might know of a shelter or something nearby. As I was leaving messages and using my phone, she came up and said they would return to the motel and try to get help there. I asked her if she knew someplace to go for help and she said they would try 211. I'd never heard of it until today, but I hoped they would get the resources they need. I watched them slowly walk across the 14th Street Bridge in the sweltering shimmer, pushing two kids in a stroller, and wished I could have asked her more about their story. I wished I'd had sandwiches to give her. I wish I'd thought to offer her some diapers. Instead, I just said a prayer and hoped they would find some more assistance along the way.
The rest of the day seemed a blur in comparison with that moment, watching the slumped shoulders and sweaty brows slowly push a stroller to seek help from strangers and try to sleep during what might be their last night with a roof over their heads for a long while. I ached for them, wishing the Church could somehow step up at that moment and embrace them, help them, love on them.
I, on the other hand, didn't have to wait too long for help from AAA, and once the spare tire was successfully installed, we made our way slowly back towards home, stopping at a local tire store which had plenty of toys and TV to distract the kids for an hour and a half. Thankfully, the flat just happened to be one of the back two tires and we had been warned when we bought the van that those particular tires would probably need replacing soon. So the expense of two new ones came quite a bit sooner than expected, but we'll survive.
I just pray the family we met will survive. And find some shelter, soon. We are blessed beyond measure, and one day's loss of naptime and a couple of cranky kids are nothing to going hungry and without a home. Though Ethan was distraught over having to give up his cookies, Jacob, it seems, understood that the family needed them more than we did. Cookies seem like such a small thing, but to a preschooler they are a prize. I hope that when he remembers this day (because he remembers EVERYTHING) he will think about how we helped others and not about having to sit in a car or a tire store for hours without relief. Just this past Sunday a guest preacher talked to the children about how Jesus calls us to give up our "crowns" for others, giving them the best even though we might want it for ourselves, and I think he got a visceral lesson in that today. Hearing him recount the story to his Daddy was one of the proudest moments I've had as a parent, and I hope that I can learn from this experience as much as he seems to have done.