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.