There is a certain ringer we gave our tow line phone, and every one of our kids knows it. Our foster buddy wasn’t with us for two weeks before we heard the ring somewhere in the distance while grocery shopping and he announced to me, “Tow Call!”
Of course that ringer in that moment in the grocery store was not connected to a tow call for us, as there are probably millions of iPhone users and many share the same ringtones, but that ringer means something to everyone in our family.
For the older ones at night, it means a chance to stay up past their bedtime, if Tim can discern it’s a safe call like a tire change or an easy winch out. For the little ones at night, it means they are about to lose their couch snuggle buddy, as Tim jumps off the couch, blankets and pillows flying everywhere, faster than we can pause the show we are all watching.
He’s about halfway up the stairs answering the phone before an enormous shushing sound comes from any of the children wanting the details. We all exchange glances across the couches, whispering and repeating what we think we have heard: “It’s a AAA call!” “No, I think it’s the Sheriff; he said Officer ____” “Ooh, it’s just a lock out in Penhook; I think it’s my turn to go!” “No way! You got to go last time!” “Shhhh!”
For me as a wife, when I even see that phone come home with Tim, instantly my guard goes up: I need to be prepared to stay on duty, Single Parent Active Duty, for the duration of that phone’s existence in my home. On more than one occasion, we have just sat down to the dinner table to eat as a family, and before we unlock hands from praying to grab forks to start shoveling, that ringer causes a raucous that makes my hard work on that meal turned cold and shadowed as I take a back seat to that ringer, that call, and that emergency.
In true Wall Family Fashion, we made a joke out of it to survive. You know, when we just climb in bed and start discussing what happened today and what needs to happen tomorrow, of course that ringer is going to go off. If we made it through the necessities of the days and now I think I can start baring my soul regarding our family, our kids, maybe even myself? You better believe that’s when the phone starts ringing. How about lunchtime we both sneak home to make sandwiches and have an uninterrupted business meeting? Mid.Sentence. That’s exactly when that ringer goes off. So we laugh and say, “Of course it’s a tow call!” And off he goes.
For me as a vice president, community member, and mother, when I hear that ringtone go off at the most inopportune time, I try to remind myself how grateful I am: grateful that we have this business that brings in more business for our shop, grateful that people deliberately choose us and ask for us by name because they trust us, and grateful that we have the privilege of helping people, literally on scene in some of the most stressful situations they will face in life.
I am so grateful.
But for me as a mom, it means a lot more internally, the inside of my “Mom Brain,” that challenges me every day. I am there for the times when we have just settled down and gotten each person situated, and when that ringer goes off, there are times we hear a disappointing round of “Awwww!” that means every one of them recognizes Daddy is leaving, and they are not going. Sometimes we will be in the middle of tucking two, five year old monkeys in bed, stories read, teeth brushed, last potty run and drink run, prayed for, tickled and shushed… and the ringer goes off, in the middle of it all. And even in my own disappointment and sometimes even irritation, I have to push through all that or squish it down and away (whichever reaction takes less time at that moment), and console them all, “That’s ok; he’ll be back soon!” or “This is good for TNT; it is good for our family!” If you have ever tucked in children, you know this is no easy feat. If you have ever tucked in two five year olds simultaneously, you know this requires superhuman strength to bring order back to the shenanigans to get these boys back to tucked in. Someone has got to do it, and when I look around, the only Someone left available is me.
As a wife, I go back on Single Parent Active Duty for the duration, yet I never lose the thought that the man on that tow call is my husband. Yes, the father of my children, but also my funny sidekick, my best friend that brings me coffee in the morning, and my soul mate that knows my secret hopes, dreams and disappointments as much as I know his.
I’ve got a lot at stake when he goes out there. I am praying for safety, because I know the risks. I’ve seen the danger on the side of the road, and accidents happen in spite of all the safety equipment, flares, flashing lights and reflective vests you can muster.
Sometimes I am aware that they are dangerous calls, in places without law enforcement or in sketchy neighborhoods where crime is frequent, but that is the location where someone needs help.
That’s the wife side of me that counts the cost when that man is gone. In between my prayers to calm myself as much as protect my husband, you can find me logging in to “Find My iPhone” every moment to refresh, making sure he made it safely, and waiting for him to start the return trip home. Confession: once I see that he is on the move headed home, more than once I have been known to fall asleep. It means I am almost off duty, and picking up the slack is hard work that weighs on my heart just as much as on my physical body.
Please don’t mistake my journal entry for some melodramatic plea for sympathy. I have come to understand that this is the way of life for our First Responders, be it Police, Fire, EMS and beyond. I have some military friends and watched the sacrifice their families make daily to keep their duty to each thing they love balanced. I could never try to compare, though I have gained a greater respect for each one of them since we have launched the towing division of our company.
We thought it was just a truck that would bring extra wrecks in to the shop to grow our sales. That was our initial plan when we bought the truck and explained to our team the purpose of the expansion. How hard could it be?
But when you say “24 Hour Roadside Assistance” that means you need to be available around the clock if it’s gonna work out. It took about a year to learn the ropes of an actual tow call and to get things stabilized, and one of our lead technicians jumped at the chance to run the tow calls, so as fast as we could get him certified, he started splitting the afterhours tow calls with Tim. It worked like a charm for awhile because it brought such relief to the constant drain of the tow phone in the house.
But then we added our five year old foster buddy, and before I could rest in the relief of our extra driver, I was in a completely different challenge where I needed more help than was coming in, never mind taking my tow truck driver husband away from me while steering this new, wild and crazy foster parenting ship. I held on with everything I had in me, and just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, and we really starting praying about whether we should drop some of our towing relationships, one of our other techs stepped up to take Tim’s shifts for the afterhours calls. That news had never been so welcomed in my life.
Fast forward four months of reclaimed peace in our life. We were able to have enough time off from that ringer that I started to laugh again when it actually did go off, and I could easily referee the squabble over which child got to go with Daddy, and I could take a deep breath to know I could handle one night of stories and shenanigans by myself. We were finding a balance.
Well, our second driver wasn’t able to work out long term, and after that sweet reprieve, we were back to on call half the time again.
“That’s okay,” I told myself. “It will be better this time. Our foster buddy is so much better, the kids are getting older, and it’s going to be different this time.”
So I tilted my head up, put my game face on, and tried to start fresh.
My birthday rolled around last week, and Tim got the team to pull together a birthday lunch to surprise me that day in the office. I had suspected something, but they had done such a good job pulling it all together, homemade cake and all, it was really touching. They had also signed a card, every one of them, and insisted that we sing “Happy Birthday.” I tried to dispute the song, because we do not sing for anyone else’s birthdays; we just cut that dessert and keep right on eating. But they insisted until I stopped arguing and let them do their thing.
Wouldn’t you know, the first bars of “Happy Birthday to you…” had barely been sung before that tow phone started ringing.
A wave of emotion rushed over me at that ringtone: disbelief, jealousy, anxiety; the uncanny coincidence that this had happened to me. Again.
I watched Tim stare at the phone, trying to at least wait for the song to be sung before he interrupted, yet not wanting to lose the call. He quickly shouted, “Sing faster!” and I watched everyone else laugh at us and how crazy the whole situation was, and then, I could laugh too.
Because it’s all part of it, and things that happened in the past do not define who I am today, or even in that Happy Birthday moment last week. It was funny, because I can remember Who is in control anyway, and Who allowed that moment to happen. What a gift that was, the opportunity to realize how far we all have come this year, our family growing, our business growing, so many privileges and so many blessings pouring out over us all through the dark nights and hard, uncertain times.
That ringtone going off was just a reminder that Life keeps coming, and Life keeps going, and it’s up to every one of us to decide what we will make of it at each particular challenge.
Best birthday present ever.