Heather Wolpert-Gawron

God bless us, everyone…

By on January 4, 2009

On Christmas Eve, my 2 year-old son and I were driving home to meet my husband, when our Honda CR-V was hit by another car.  It was pretty bad.  But it could have been much worse, for which we are very thankful.

While much of the gratitude that I initially felt is slowly being replaced by the growls of frustrations involved with getting on with life, I have, nevertheless, reflected on the actual accident, and realize that even at the time of the crash, there was a teachable moment.

In a nutshell, I was driving straight on a residential street and a parked car next to me decided to enter traffic with such force that my car went onto 2 wheels before settling back down, smoky and collapsed with the effort to protect us within.  As a mom, the sound of my screaming kid in the back was a relief to me.  My next thought was irrational: how do I get the kid out before me?  Of course you can’t, as thousands of air-mask movies from emergency take-off procedures flew into my mind.  I jumped out screaming over and over, “It’s alright!!!!” at the top of my lungs (not very comforting, but the only volume I seemed to have had at the time was 10) and grabbed the kid, running as far from the car as possible, picturing fiery movie explosions from the car behind us.

When the car didn’t blow, it was then I turned around and saw the other driver, a mere kid, trapped behind the steering wheel of the car that had hit us.

He was bleeding and looked stunned.  I ran closer, keeping my son’s back to the scene, and yelled into his car, “Are you OK?”  He blinked and nodded, putting his hand to his face to help stop the blood.  People came running, and his passenger, another high school buddy, pulled his friend from the car to lean over into the street while the fire trucks and police pulled up.  His friend looked up and I asked again, “Is he alright?  Have you guys called your parents?”

Seconds later, after my kid had stopped shaking and screaming, I realized that my phone was somewhere in my car, unable to be retrieved.  I walked up to the high school kid, the passenger, and asked to use his phone.  At the time, he was busy wiping blood off his friend’s shoes like that might make him feel more whole.  He stood up and handed me the phone and said, “Please call anyone you like.”  It was then that the driver looked up and whispered, “Is your baby OK?”  I said yes, and he nodded like this was a good, comforting thought in amongst the twisted metal and blood.

But where’s the teachable moment, you say?  Well, I say it’s in how we all handled each other.  I remember being 17 and getting into a big accident with a curb in which nobody was hurt, other than my car and me.  I remember having my car door ripped open by some schmuck with cocaine-wide eyes screaming “Are you proud of yourself?!” His pregnant wife stood behind him and I remember thinking, Wow, what a father he’s going to make.

Anyway, after my accident, a friend of mine asked if I was totally pissed at the kid.  Another asked if I had ripped him a new one.  The answer, of course, was no.  Sometimes life does that for you.

Just look at the scene.  A 17-year-old driver with Christmas on the brain pulls out from the curb without looking over his shoulder and almost kills a mother and her kid.  His soundtrack to the accident is the screams of my son yelling from my arms.  His own blood is on the sidewalk.  The cars are totaled.

As the tow trucks chained up our vehicles and the firemen cleaned up the waste, I walked over to the driver, this kid wearing his local high school T-shirt and clutching a Macy’s package in his hand, surely a Christmas present for someone, bought with the money from some part-time job.   “This could have been a much worse Christmas for us all,” I said.  “Let’s just be thankful.”

Sometimes being the teacher is about not teaching. Frankly, I didn’t need to be the teacher in this one, just the adult.

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  1. ms_teacher
    January 5, 2009

    Thank goodness both you and your son are okay. I’m not sure I would have been as calm as you, but being the mom of two teens, I am glad that you handled it in the way that you did.

  2. Pat
    January 5, 2009

    I am so glad that everyone was okay. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who was to blame but just that there were no fatalities. I’m so glad you were there to be the adult for those kids. Thanks for sharing and reminding me that every day is really a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

  3. Mike Albert
    January 5, 2009

    Thank God for…. the engineers at Honda designed a car that provided safety in a devastating accident…. the fire fighters and police that were on duty on Christmas Eve, away from their families to serve us, and the paramedics and ER folks who fortunately weren’t needed…. the fact that you were driving unimpaired at the speed limit and you and your son were using seat belts and a car seat…. and that everyone concerned saw Christmas Day. There were truly many angels watching after you, your son, and the other boys.

  4. Cindi Rigsbee
    January 10, 2009

    Your story reminds me of the wreck my son caused when he had been a licensed driver for a total of six months. He came to an intersection to make a left turn, and thinking he had an arrow, turned in front of a car. The driver of that car was nine months pregnant, and while she was dealing with her water breaking, her two-year-old screamed in the back seat. Fifteen minutes later I was there along with about 15 of my family members – my other children, their boyfriends, my mother, and my husband had also shown up. As the other driver was taken to the hospital to deliver what turned out to be a perfectly healthy baby, we all stood in that street and cried. She, like you, although weeping herself, was understanding and treated my terrified son with kindness and respect. Thank you, Heather, for “paying it forward” for me.

  5. Nancy Flanagan
    January 11, 2009

    Wonderfully poignant story, Heather, especially the outcome. There is a reason they call these events “accidents.” After the ecstasy of realizing nobody was seriously hurt, it’s only money.

    In the only serious accident I ever had, a two-ton pickup slammed into the back of my mini-van, where my two-year old was buckled, since it was safer than the front seat (the front end was pushed into a tree…not great, either). I remember picking broken glass out of his diaper. For months afterward, he played “crash” with his little cars. Rrrrrrr-SMASH! then he would say “An den da window bweak.” Finally, he played the event right out of his system, and all was well. Here’s a blessing for you…

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