[Note: From this point on, my children will be referred to by their blog names of Dean (8), Jess (5), and Logan (1). This sounds much better than their real names of Mopey, Screechy and Whiney. (Leave me a comment if you get the pop culture reference)]
Two weeks ago, we were getting ready to pick my oldest, Dean, up from school. I was starting to feel irritated because even though we had started to get ready with plenty of time, we were rushing at the last minute just the same. There was one more potty trip, someone couldn’t find their shoes, the baby wouldn’t cooperate with getting into his car seat – all factors conspiring to make us leave the house later than usual. Speeding down the road, as I am apt to do when we are late and I’m trying to get to school before they sell my child to the circus, I can see the flashing lights up ahead. My first thought is, “Crap, now we are going to really be late.” As I get closer, I can see more of the accident and that the road is totally blocked. My second thought is, “Crap, I don’t want the kids to see that.” I try to turn off the main road before the accident but there is no other turn to take. Bystanders are redirecting traffic to my left just a few feet from the crashed cars. Luckily, the boys in the back seat are only mildly affected. They can’t see the crash from their vantage point – but I can. I can see that it is not good. As I follow the detour, I can hear more EMS vehicles arriving and my mind is racing with various emotions. I pass this way every day – twice. This accident had just occurred – if we had been on time, we could have been involved. Was it someone we knew? Could it be one of our neighbors or classmates? Someone, somewhere was getting a phone call, the kind of phone call that I fear, and their day, their world, was about to come crashing down. But I kept driving, because, you know – kid, school, circus…
Once I arrived at school, I hugged Dean so tightly that he asked me what was wrong. So I explained that I was late because of an accident and that I was sad that people had gotten hurt. We spent some time hanging out at school – since I needed the distraction and I had hoped that the accident might be cleared by the time we passed the scene again. Despite the extra time, however, the opposite had occurred. Without a better detour idea, I took our usual route home only to pass a scene that had grown in intensity and drama. EMS workers were still trying to cut a victim free of the wreckage and so many people were standing around wringing their hands with grim faces. I had to carefully drive around parked cars, neighbors standing in the road including one scared crying child. Just beyond the actual accident was the Life Flight helicopter, parked on someone’s front lawn. Not something you see everyday so this is where I tried to draw the kids’ attention.
Dean, who could see more than Jess and his friend, was asking questions about what he was seeing – both outside and inside the car. He is old enough and mature enough to understand my emotional reactions and wanted to know why I was driving so slowly, why was I angry that someone had let their child watch something so scary and in such an unsafe location, why I was irritated that they hadn’t redirected traffic better, and why I was irritated with myself for simply not taking the really long way home that would have avoided all this in the first place. And why were all the other cars we passed for the rest of the trip going so fast? Didn't they know?
So I gave him some honest answers. I didn’t take a different route because I did not want us on the road any longer than necessary. Driving a car is a big responsibility and a small mistake could have huge, nasty consequences. I told him how sad I was that someone had gotten hurt. I hated that anyone had to suffer – like being pinned in a car for over an hour after being hit head on, and that an entire neighborhood had turned out to helplessly watch. I hated that someone was so terribly hurt that the helicopter had been brought in to bring him/her to the hospital (a good sign, in that the victim had survived the accident). I didn’t say that I was scared about how easily it could have been us involved in that crash. I didn’t say that this, while not ordinary, is an ordinary risk we take every day.
Several days later, I was still processing what we had witnessed. As I learned the details about how the accident had occurred, I was even more traumatized. I heard that the person stuck in that car was a mother and that her own mother had come to the scene to be with her. The simple fact that the crash involved a fellow mom affected me as much as everything else. A friend and I were talking about it one day – about the driver who had crossed the center line because she had reached for something on the seat next to her and had taken her eyes from the road for a split second. “How often do I do that?” my friend asked. “How often do I switch the CD for the kids, or reach into the back to hand them something?” True enough. How easily we take our safety for granted. And how would we live with ourselves if we were responsible for such an accident? We drive the same roads everyday, hurrying along, just trying to get to our next place – not really thinking about what could happen. And honestly, I can’t think too much about what could happen - because if I did, I wouldn’t drive at all. I can only keep my hands on the wheel, my eyes open, my mind focused, and my heart with the mother who almost lost her life.
And so if lessons are to be learned from other’s tragedies, this is mine. I cannot control what might happen to me, but I can be in control of what I do. I can prevent my being responsible for someone else’s pain. So here is my challenge to you. Drive today and everyday as if every mother depends on it.