Thursday, June 20, 2019

The gift of a car: Musings on being a "one car family"

I have to confess that I feel a little silly writing about how our family only owns one car. There are many communities worldwide where I'm sure that owning a car-just one car-is a luxury! However, here in the middle of America, in cities of two-car garages and families where every licensed person has a dedicated vehicle for his or her use, being a "one car family" seems a little offbeat.

This has been downright challenging at times; yet, even in the tough moments, it has opened my eyes and helped me grow in many ways. 

I realize that in some cities across the U.S.A., most people don't own cars-and you don't need them! You can walk or take the subway or bus anywhere. But, here in the OKC metro, a car is pretty much a necessity for most people. Sure, if you live in the midtown or downtown area, you could probably bike, walk, or hop on a streetcar to get wherever you need. You could live happily without a car. But, for many people in this city-particularly those with kids-you need a car to get from place to place. A woman I knew at our apartment a few years back didn't have a car, and she would tell me about the unreliability of the bus system here, and how it takes a long time to go anywhere by bus. While a lot is being done to create bike routes and sidewalks in the city, there is still a long way to go in making this a safe and supportive environment for people who bike from place to place.

So, being a "one car family" has taught me a lot about the gift of transportation. The fact that we have a car is a gift. We don't need to rely on getting rides from friends or family every time we need to drive someplace. We aren't stuck sitting on a crowded bus in traffic as we slowly crawl towards our destination. Our car is not fancy; it has a couple hundred thousand miles on it and one part of it is literally being held together by a bungee cord. Yet, it gets us where we need to go (most of the time). That is a huge gift; one that we should never take for granted. 

Since my husband and I share one car, we need to communicate about our needs, priorities, and schedules. It can be tricky to coordinate at times, since he'll spontaneously have things come up at work where he needs the car (when I've been hoping to have it). Sometimes, we each need to put up with slight inconveniences so the other person can use the car, or we ride together (with the kids) and get a bunch of things done at once. This can be tiring, but the communication and closeness that having one car forces is beneficial.

If I ever want the car during a weekday, I need to pack the kids up early in the morning and drop my husband off at work. There has been a time or two when we've had to leave the house well before 6 a.m. to do this. On those occasions, I would LOVE a second car. There have also been many occasions when the timing is awkward. Dropping my husband off at work, we'll have a weird short period of time before a certain event or activity-it's not really worth hauling the kids back home only to leave again-so we've just had to learn to embrace that. The kids get to experience the joy of the ten-minute park visit (or a quick jaunt through Target, if it's really hot or raining) as I try to fill in the quirky schedule gaps when we're doing drop-off or pickup. 

Since it is a bit of a hassle to borrow the car while my husband is at his office, we often don't  use of a car during the day-and this has forced us to embrace greater simplicity. We walk a lot, and as we do this, we encounter our surroundings and community. We spend time in our neighborhood and at home. We meet up with friends at a nearby park, or invite people over. We don't do "all the things" because we can't. We can't do ten million mom meetups and playdates a week, because we don't have the ability to get to them (I guess we could borrow the car every day, but I would probably be exhausted/go insane if we did that). And you know what? As wonderful as those meetups and playdates would be, I'm glad that we don't feel the pressure to do all of them. 

Not having a car forces us to do few things. Sure, it'd be nice to spontaneously go see people, but I think if we had a second car, it would be so easy to go out and do everything that we could wear ourselves down really quickly. 

I am excited to have a car someday, I really am. I sometimes dream about the luxury of being a "two car family" and it makes me utterly giddy. We'll be able to go on outings spontaneously! We won't have to coordinate with my husband's work schedule as much! We could actually take day trips on occasion! Yet, for now, I want to soak up the goodness of only having one car. There have been so many gifts and blessings in this, and I am grateful-so grateful-for this experience. 


  1. In many parts of America, it is extremely difficult to get around without a car! Angel and I each owned our own cars when we got married, so we were a two-car family there (and needed to be, as my school schedule and his hospital schedule would have been tough to manage--and he worked 40 minutes away). In China, we had no car and lived in a big city and took the bus or metro or walked everywhere--and I kind of loved it! Again, here, we live in a place where many people don't own cars (motorbikes are the affordable family transportation of choice), but there I put my foot down. We have had several people in our neighborhoods killed in motorbike accidents...the traffic is just too dangerous for me to consider that for family transportation ( and maybe it's the American side of me, too, that isn't comfortable with it). So we have one car, that we bought when we first moved to Malaysia. Two cars would be well out of our budget...and our lifestyle doesn't really require it. Angel works, and I take Cyrus to go teach at my family's education center, but it's within walking distance (in the past I have walked it many times with Cyrus in arms, right now I'm neither allowed to walk strenuously or carry Cyrus, but usually I can arrange a ride with my Dad or Angel). With not being allowed to lift Cyrus, it's not like I can go out on my own, anyway. I do sometimes miss the freedom of having my car in America and being able to go out and do errands on my own...but now we just arrange it for when we can go together, or else I double up and do grocery shopping when my mom is already doing her grocery shopping. Teaches me to be efficient! Our island does have buses...but it's a long walk from where we live to the bus stop, one I can't do in my current condition, and the bus system is pretty inefficient, as well, so it's been quite a while since I've wanted to go anywhere badly enough to use the bus.

  2. We used to live on the outskirts of DC. Many people there didn't have cars and didn't need cars because the public transportation system was excellent. However, where we live now we definitely need at least one vehicle.
    Your post is very timely for me because we currently only have one vehicle. We have my minivan, but the transmission went out on my husband's van. We don't have the money to get it fixed right now (we aren't paying for anything using credit), so we've been "surviving" with just one vehicle.
    It is definitely something we can do, but does have its challenges. He takes it to work (the commute is too long for us to drive him to work and pick him up). It definitely takes advanced planning and creativity!

    1. Oh Shannon, I'm so sorry to hear that the minivan is out of commission! I imagine that it would be hard going down to one vehicle after being used to having two. I hope that the minivan gets up and running sooner rather than later, and that in the meantime, coordinating transportation goes smoothly!