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What a Full Tank of Gas Means to Me and My Son With Anxiety


I filled up the gas tank of my car this morning, and the electronic display kindly informed me that I had “210 miles to empty.”

When I first filled the gas tank of the car a couple of years ago, I glanced at the display and read the word “empty” as “enjoy.” I thought to myself, “Oh, how nice, the car is basically telling me to have a good day.” Then I glanced at the display again and realized my error — empty, not enjoy.

To this day, every single time I fill up the tank, I think about that little error and laugh at myself. Today when I filled up the gas tank, I thought about the shift in perspective just one little word can bring about.

Empty versus enjoy.

“210 miles to empty” means how far I can drive or how many days I can make the tank of gas last. The full tank will slowly trickle toward empty as I drive the kids to day camp, therapy appointments, ninjutsu classes, aerial classes and coding classes.

It will also take me to and from work and to a variety of errands. My son’s anxiety levels are usually pretty high when we are in the car, so while we are using up the gas in the tank this week, I’ll also probably be diffusing his anxiety levels.

The car is also where my daughter has been hitting me with her most burning tween questions, so I will likely find myself having to answer a question I’m not necessarily prepared to be hearing. As the week progresses, the gas tank will slowly become empty as we live the day-to-day of our lives.

“210 miles to enjoy” means making memories when the miles are shared with my kids and savoring the rare moments of solitude when the miles are solo. The tank is full at the beginning of the last week of summer break. It’s a week where my kids get a final chance to pack in fun and friends without the added responsibilities of school and homework.

That tank of gas will take my son to a coding class we recently discovered and that he adores. It will also take my daughter to and from the aerial studio where she finds absolute joy. As the gas gauge gets lower, I will travel to and from a job I love and find a few minutes each day of rare time alone.

The car will get us safely to my son’s therapy appointments, so he can continue to figure out how to exist in a world that he often finds overwhelming. It will also provide a safe haven for my daughter to ask her most burning questions when we are the only occupants of the vehicle. There’s something about the combination of not having to look me in the eyes but still having me to herself that works for her little brain and heart right now. As the week progresses, that tank of gas will give us opportunities to enjoy the day-to-day of our lives.

And by the time the gas tank needs to be filled again, we’ll probably be well into the final long weekend of summer, enjoying time with family and friends.

So, 210 miles to empty or 210 miles to enjoy?

I’m going to choose enjoy.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images