March 6, 2021

Do you remember the first time someone told you NOT to put diesel fuel into an unleaded vehicle? I don’t. It feels like one of those facts that’s embedded into my neural pathways, like how you don’t have to tell someone to hold their breath before going underwater.

Except once upon a time, we did have to tell our kids to hold their breath before they went underwater. Well, we didn’t “tell” them, per se, but if you’ve had little babies you’ve probably done that adorable thing where you blow in their face right before you dunk them in the pool, and they scrunch up their face all cute and catch their breath because they have an instinct to do that. (Or it could be that you ate onion dip right before going in the pool, utterly disregarding the no-swimming-for-thirty-minutes-after-eating rule, and now you’re blowing that stinky onion breath into your sweet little babe’s face, and your sweet little babe doesn’t have any words with which to ask you to please refrain from doing that, so they just hold their breath and hope for the best, and instead of the best they get unexpectedly plunged underwater for a quick second, and now they’ve had stinky onion breath blown in their face and they’ve learned that they can’t actually trust their parents not to pull dumb pool pranks on them.) Anyway, we think holding our breath underwater is something we just know we must do, but at some point when we were wee little things, we had to learn.

And at some point when we were teenagers, we had to learn not to put diesel fuel in a car that uses unleaded gas. (Fun Fact: I just learned that it’s incorrect to say “diesel gas.” It’s diesel fuel. I mean, I knew diesel and unleaded were different and definitely not interchangeable, but I didn’t give the words themselves much thought. Now I know that saying “unleaded vs. diesel gas” is like saying “Coke vs. Pepsi Coke,” and only a crazy person would say that. I am not a crazy person. Anymore.)

Our son Kiefer didn’t learn not to put diesel fuel in a car that takes unleaded gas, and I don’t tell this story to embarrass him, I tell it to embarrass Todd and myself, because what in the world. Why didn’t we teach him that?! It’s one of those things we know so instinctively that we don’t even think of it anymore, so when I took him to the gas station to teach him how to fill up with gas (gasoline!) shortly before he got his license, the topic of those green-handled fuel pumps didn’t even come up. 

A few weeks later, when he was filling up for the first time by himself, he noticed that the nozzle he was using didn’t quite fit the way it ought to. He considered calling me to ask about this, but he didn’t want to be a bother. Gold stars to him for being proactive and not feeling the need to call his mommy anytime things don’t go quite as expected. But fifteen demerits (deep down, I’m a British boarding school headmistress) for failing to call his mommy (or anyone else) on this particular occasion.

Important life lesson: if all the signs tell you you’re doing something wrong, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Kiefer saw the signs (i.e. a nozzle that clearly didn’t fit) but he shrugged and decided to just stand there and hold the nozzle against the fuel tank while diesel fuel glugged into his new car, the car my mom and dad had taken immaculate care of for the last six years. Some of the fuel dribbled out, but he grabbed a rag and wiped it off. He then drove the half-mile home and came inside, and THANK GOODNESS he decided to mention this oddity right away.

“My car is weird,” he said. “The gas nozzle didn’t fit in the fuel tank.”

I stared at him, wondering what nonsense this was. “What do you mean?” I asked. “What did you do?” He explained about just standing there and holding it. “Did the pump have a green handle??” I asked.

“Yeeeeah…” he said, and that answer set off a weekend of fun. This happened on Friday night, too late in the evening to do anything at all. The next morning Todd called the dealership, who told him they couldn’t get the car in until Monday at the earliest. We looked into a couple of other mechanics, who were also closed for the weekend. Of course they were. Who needs auto work on the weekend, right?

So then Todd called a friend of ours who’s handy with cars, and thankfully he wasn’t closed until Monday (that doesn’t even make sense) and so he came over with a siphon pump and he and Todd and Kiefer managed to get the diesel out of the tank and then they refilled it with unleaded gas and then some other things went wrong and they fixed those things too. (I know I’m not doing my gender any services here, but “other things went wrong” is just about as specific as I can get. Something about stalling and starter fluid and manifolds? You’re welcome.)

The remaining diesel in the car burned off, the car choked back to life, and now we know that our kids aren’t actually born automatically knowing which kind of fuel to put in a car. I don’t know what we’ll forget to tell Cooper, Foss, and Will when they’re learning to drive, but it won’t be that. If there is one thing our kids will know, it’ll be to stay the heck away from those green handles.

Stay Away From the Green Handles

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