Warning Light

The beeps were slow and methodical as the checkout person slid my groceries over the sensor.

My foot tapped as I peered at my mother-in-law by the door – already finished shopping and waiting.

My daughter kicked my bladder and I patted my stomach to calm her gymnastics. I didn’t have time to use the bathroom.

“More Kashi!” My son said, thrusting his empty cup at me.

“What do you say, Sweetie?” I asked, hands already seeking the refill in the diaper bag.


The check-out person rattled off an amount as I juggled the refill and my wallet.

Finally, we were free.

I set a land speed record for loading the car and sped off, the gas light once again reminded me I needed fuel.

The goals:

1)      Drop off my groceries first so my mother-in-law could entertain my toddler, because if I had to remove him from the car, he wouldn’t get back in.

2)      Drop off her groceries – she lived three blocks away.

3)      Fill up the tank – the gas station was half a block from her apartment.

4)      Attend my class at the gym.

Step one went off without a hitch, as I quickly shoved all must-be-refrigerated items away and left everything else strewn upon the floor.

As I hit the midpoint to my mother-in-law’s, my car slowed. Mashing the gas pedal did nothing.

I could see the gas station one block away, taunting me. Instead of turning left into my mother-in-law’s apartment complex, I veered right, praying I’d make it.

Twenty feet later it became clear I would be stuck in step two.

I turned right into a strip mall parking lot. Before I coasted to a stop, I’d lost the ability to turn – the lovely downfall of power steering.

It was the first time I’d ever run out of fuel.

I squelched the urge to cry and turned to my MiL. “I’ll be right back.”

I waddled as fast as I could to the fire station next door.

“Is anyone here?” Panic laced my voice.

“Can I help you?” The fireman who greeted me had to be Mr. June on a calendar somewhere.

I explained the dire situation of melting groceries, a toddler, and handicapped mother-in-law and he graciously offered to get a gas can.

He walked over and poured two gallons of gasoline into the tank, although he’d accidentally grabbed a leaky container and fuel ran down the side of my car.

I didn’t care at this point, my face flaming with embarrassment.

My new van had taught me a lesson: the gas light means business.

Lesson learned.

* * *

Angela and Galit were both teachers in their pre-Mom lives. When we made that connection so many words popped into our heads:




What we finally landed on? Is this:

Write a post that either starts or ends with the words “Lesson learned.” Word limit: 400 words.

* * *

Concrit is welcomed as always.

Have you ever run out of gas? What happened?


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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35 Responses to Warning Light

  1. Elaine says:

    Bet you’ve never run out of gas again, huh? 😉

    I actually like the hurried feeling of this. Maybe because I’m in that state a lot myself. Ha! I really liked the part about your daughter kicking your bladder.

  2. NC Narrator says:

    Loved it! I’ve run out of gas once…and it wasn’t my fault (the gas tank was dented, so it turns out 1/4 of a tank is actually empty)!

    I HAVE, however, very nearly run my car out of oil because I ignored the little oil can light on my dashboard!

    • Empty at 1/4 of tank! That would drive me crazy!

      Ohh.. yeah. The oil light is very important. Ignoring the gas light will get you stranded. Ignoring the oil one will have the car overheat, destroy the engine, and get you stranded.


  3. I had a quarter tank left – which gets you far in a Civic – when I took Peo to her 5 year old well-kid doc appointment. Didn’t even occur to me that it’d be a problem to park in the hilly parking lot. Parked there before without a problem.

    But when we came out, the car wouldn’t start. Called Corran, he came and we put Peo in his car and then pushed mine to level ground, where it started.

    So in hill country, you can have 1/4 tank and still be “out of gas”.


  4. I think I’m due this lesson. I almost died the other day when I pulled into the gas station and my kid yelled “But Mom, the lights not on yet!”

  5. Ugh, running out of gas is the worst! Especially in your case at that moment! Thank goodness for nice people!!

  6. Galit Breen says:

    Oh friend! Been there {sadly} done that {repeatedly}.


    I loved the simplicity of this line -my car slowed- it turned the whole feel of the piece, my heart sank for you.

  7. Kir says:

    oh, oh, oh. you poor thing.I HATE lessons like that.
    I’m just glad that he fireman helped and gave you something to stare at ….

    I have only run out of gas once before in my single days, but John seems to think it’s fun to “Test” the light…men drive me crazy 😉

    • My husband also “tests” the gas tank capacity. In fact, he’d been driving the van the day before – when the light first came on – so I had no idea it had been on for a while at this point.

      When I borrow his car, the fuel light is often on, and while I know it gets further than mine does, I have no idea how long he’s been driving it that way, and get gas immediately.

      Serious? What is it with men and testing things like this?

  8. Carrie says:

    My husband yells at me if I let the car get below 1/4 of a tank :p Only once have I let my car get to the point where the light has come on (last week in fact). As soon as it did I had this panicky feeling in my stomach.

    Never have I been so happy to see a gas station! 😉

    • I only get panicked if we’re road tripping and in the middle of nowhere, or if I turn on the car and its already on – so I don’t know how long it’s been on (typically after my husband borrows the car).

      At least this time it happened next to where someone could help me. During this grocery run, there were many worse places it could’ve happened.

      Still – having the gas station taunt me from 1/2 a block away because I couldn’t make it there… ARGH!

  9. christina says:

    UGH!!! i have such a fear of this happening now with my toddler! horrible! so glad you were near someone who could help!

  10. Emily says:

    Oh, you poor thing! I felt like I was right there hurrying to the fire station with you! Thank goodness for the friendly Mr. June! 😉

    • Yes, it was quite nice of them to do that.

      I’m pretty sure he was laughing at me (along with the older, pot bellied one who joined him) and how I couldn’t make it to the gas station 1/2 a block away.

      I mean really, could you get more cliched? A 7 month pregnant woman, with a 2.5 year old, mother-in-law, and groceries in her minivan?

      I don’t think so..

      Thanks for reading!

  11. Susan says:

    All I could think of as I was reading this, is “she should have used the bathroom before she left the store!” I have to laugh, though, because this will never happen to me. I start panicking when the needle goes past the half a tank mark.

    • Using the bathroom with my almost two and a half year old was not an option. His favorite thing to do was crawl around and splash in the toilets at this point.

      And I didn’t really have to pee, only during the few seconds my bladder was extra compressed, such as when kicked.

      I always went before leaving the house.

      Thank god.

  12. Jackie says:

    How lucky you were so close to the fire station! Even as I am over 30, my father still grills me whenever we speak about the amount of gas in my car. 1/4 tank makes my stomach flutter with fear.

    • Wow! My father was never so diligent. He does not believe in stopping the car (on road trips) until he has to, or until it’s on empty.

      It made it very difficult to pee.

      Yes, I love my firemen. I baked them cookies a few days later and took them over to say thanks.

  13. Krista W, says:

    My gas light came on this morning shortly after starting my 16 mile drive to work. You have made me less willing to “ride it out”!

    And, I just realized I have to pee – which was accentuated by the bladder kicking description!

    I hope your MIL was understanding about the situation.

    And getting to watch Mr. June help out couldn’t have been a bad thing, right? 😉

    • My MIL was laughing a bit, in the “thank god it was you and not me” type way.

      She was most concerned about her groceries.

      Honestly, I find it much more humiliating when something like that happens in front of someone attractive. Blame the inner 13 year old..

      Be wary of “riding it out”.

      I do not miss the bladder kicking…

      Thanks for reading!

  14. Jennie says:

    Love it. I’ve been there a few times myself, mostly with my old car because the gauge was always wrong. It stinks. Great imagery and great post!

  15. Terry says:

    I loved the Mr. June detail and the waddling…great images. You handled this situation well! When we started I thought you were going to pee your pants…and then when you ran out of gas I was really worried you were and that the lesson learned was that you should have gone at the store. 🙂 So glad you just ran out of gas! HAHA

  16. angela says:

    Yes, I’ve run out of gas before. It was embarassing; it happened right in front of a luxury car repair shop, and I was in my Pontiac Sunfire. About a mile from my house. Sigh. Thankfully, they were kind and helpful.

    I love the list and then getting stuck on step 2. What is it they say about the best laid plans?

  17. Shay says:

    I actually “laughed out loud’ as I read this! My husband constantly has a car with the gas warning light on and I am forever warning him that it will result in an embarrassing tale one day! Entertaining post…thank you!

  18. Nancy C says:

    Oh, that stinks. As a fellow let-it-ride person, I may print this out just to remind me that those lights mean something.

    And you so perfectly capture the daily to-do tickings in all of our minds!

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