Dirty Gas Stations Aren’t All Bad

This weekend we visited friends who are close in our hearts, but 350 miles separate us. They are such dear friends that it makes the near six hour drive each way seem not so bad, because we leave with our cups filled up.

It used to be that we could make the drive in five hours without disobeying too many posted traffic signs, but it also required me to not drink liquid for the twelve hours in advance of our drive. With a three and five year-old, we have become accustomed to adding an hour to our drive for stops. If my husband and I are completely forthright our bladders thank them.

At our third stop, I took the kids to go potty while my husband filled up the car. We shuffled into the bathroom where we all argued about who would use what stall. I mostly wanted them to use a stall, but
joined the fight in an effort to get them each to use the facilities, so that we might avoid stops six and seven.

I’ve written in the past about how my preferred stop while traveling is McDonalds for the mere fact that it is always clean. We were so far in the middle of nowhere that McDonalds was not an option. We stopped at the town’s single gas station. It had some charm, like the freshly baked goods that were for sale on the aisle end cap, but it was mostly the sort of place where I thought Littles might be right in not wanting to wash her hands if she didn’t touch anything in the bathroom. (This is always her MO… at home, at a restaurant, at dirty gas stations.)

Unfortunately, Littles rarely doesn’t touch anything. She’s three. She usually has her hands all over the toilet seat in an effort not to fall in. I was preparing the sink area for hand washing by sopping up the lake of germ infested standing water when I realized that our arguing was not private. A young woman joined us at the sinks.

She could have given me the you’re-a-horrible-mother side eye glance with an added I-will-never-argue-with-my-kids exaggerated sigh, but she smiled and asked Littles who was on her shirt. After Littles responded she asked, “Are Elsa and Anna both in Frozen?” Bigs gave her a big smile and told her, “Yes. They are sisters.” She made her way out as Littles touched everything again requiring her to dispense more soap, which was likely her original desire. We made our way out of the bathroom where my husband was waiting for us (likely wondering what could have possibly taken so long.)

We decided since we were already on our third stop and it was past lunch time, that we would give everybody a snack. The kids had a good breakfast, so no harm no foul. Bigs immediately found the largest bag of Cheetos manufactured (perhaps the gas station sources product from Costco.) Littles was interested in Pringles, but could not decide between them and Cheetos. I was putting back the king-sized bag of Cheetos as we found a snack bag when Littles concluded she wanted Cheetos. Bigs put back his snack bag and ran back to the king-sized aisle where he nearly ran into a woman my mothers age who was thoughtfully surveying the Special K Protein bars. Littles came tearing around the corner for this poor woman’s second near collision.

She had that look as she stared at my exasperated face that she was going to give me the “Enjoy Every Moment of Motherhood” speech. Mentally I prepared for the story of how fast it goes and you never get the time back. Instead she said, “Aren’t they wonderful,” in a manner where I wasn’t sure if she was offering a compliment or asking a question. It gave me a chance to take a deep breath, find my smile, and respond with, “They really are. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” My lips closed and we both paused. My fear of being judged for not being mom enough or loving enough or just generally good enough lifted and the end of my sentence slipped through my lips, “At least most of the time.”

“I’m so glad you said that, because it is the truth.”

There in a grungy gas station, where I planned on feeding my kids Cheetos for lunch once we got back on the road for the last half of our drive, I felt like a good mom. Not because I was neatly put together or my children were well behaved or because I was feeding them a healthy on-the-go lunch, but because a perfect stranger validated my truth.

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