A few weeks ago when a text that said “Be careful” popped up on my phone, it was nice to see. I’m so used to getting the ones that say “Where are you?” and “You almost here?” and “Pick me up in two minutes.”
The difference in the text that day was that it came from my son’s pitching coach, whereas the other more demanding texts come from my teenage son. And the difference in that day is that there had just been a horrific accident in our small town in which the mother of six small children was killed by a dump truck who ran a red light.
That afternoon, I was doing my usual crazy taxi mom duties: Pick up 2 of 3 kids from school, drive home to get them snacks, drive back to the high school to drop off a kid at baseball practice and pick the other one up from basketball at the middle school. Then go home to get the basketball kid a snack before taking him to pitching lessons (I made him skip bowling practice in between because of the traffic from the accident). My 7-year-old daughter had a belly ache so when we were supposed to leave the house at 5 for 5:30 pitching lessons, I was freaking out.
“Well hurry up!” I told her. “We’re going to be late!” No, it wasn’t her fault her stomach decided not to cooperate with our busy schedule, but she could at least try to make it more convenient for me, right?
In a huff, I texted the pitching coach “I’m sorry but I think we’re going to be late.” His lessons run back to back and I knew that us getting there late would put him behind. The answer I received from him right away was not what I expected.
“Be careful” was his only response.
On a day when I had so many places to be, I hadn’t even thought about the importance of getting there carefully. I hadn’t thought about the fact that those six kids were never going to see their mother again. I was simply in my automatic frame of mind — get there now. Get there fast.
With three kids in five activities that often start and stop just minutes apart, I am often in panic mode. From the outside looking in, I’m sure it seems that what I do is not that hard — not that stressful. But when kids get to an age in which coaches make them accountable for being late, their driver becomes accountable for being on time. If I can’t pick up my middle school kid from the end of bowling practice at 4:30 and be able to drop my high school kid off at basketball at 4:45, the basketball kid has to run. If the high school kid’s practice runs late and I can’t make it to pick up the middle school kid on time, his coaches are frustrated they have to wait. There’s a pressure to be everywhere at once that no one can understand unless you’ve been there.
In the past few years our lives have become more chaotic, and with that chaos something has gone horribly downhill. My driving.
If I have two minutes to get across the highway in order to make it to the end of a bowling match, heck yeah I floor it through a yellow light. If my teenager texts me while I’m at the grocery store “we finished early — come now,” I check out as fast as I can, head to my car and gun it in reverse. God forbid he be the last one standing there waiting. If I get a call in the morning from the elementary school that my daughter is “feeling yucky but doesn’t have a fever — but you should probably come get her anyway,” I fly out of my driveway to pick her up as if she’ll develop the plague in ten minutes. When I look back at all the times my driving has been crazy, it’s quite embarrassing. But one thing is for sure — I’m not the only one.
I’m pretty certain that anyone who has kids has needed to get somewhere quickly –whether it was rushing to Walgreens for Ibuprofin at 9:55 PM, speeding to get to the end of one kid’s choir concert after watching the beginning of another one’s volleyball match, or having to leave a meeting at work to pick up a child whose track meet was rained out. Red lights have been ran, speed limits have been broken, and (in my car at least) booster seats have been forgotten. Unfortunately, I and I believe many parents at this stage have lost sight of the fact that “being careful” is more important than punctuality.
In the accident in which that poor woman lost her life, she hadn’t done anything wrong. She was paying attention, but unfortunately someone else was not. As a mom whose oldest son is about to start driving, I’m making the oath right now to teach him that he must always be looking out for “the other guy” who’s not driving safely or not paying attention — and I’m also going to start showing him how to be “the other guy” who is.
I’m going to stop rushing so much. I’ll stop at yellow lights. I’ll drive the speed limit even if my daughter has to poop and makes us late. I’ll tell my kids that if they happen to get out of practice ten minutes early that they may need to wait, because my car does NOT have wings and can’t possibly fly there in 30 seconds. I’ll stop reading text messages when I’m driving — which I always felt like I needed to do because it could be from one of them. I just got a new car that I’m hoping will help with that; it tells me when I have a text and asks if I’d like to HEAR it rather than read it. When it’s from one of my sons, I’ll say yes. When my daughter’s in the car and it’s from my friend who likes to tell me crude jokes, I’ll say no.
I’m going to be a better example because there’s a lot more at stake than a kid having to run a few laps at practice or a daughter who might puke at school. There’s a teenage boy who’s watching me, and who needs to know that when he’s on the road, the most important thing is to drive carefully.
For days after that horrific crash last month, people were quick to point fingers at others who could be causing similar accidents.
“I saw someone running a red light today. Shame on him.”
“I watched someone cut in line at drop-off today. Shame on her.”
But I think instead of pointing fingers, we should be admitting what we do wrong ourselves — and make an effort to change it.
I want to thank my son’s pitching coach that day for reminding me of something so important: These days of games, practices and lessons will one day disappear. But God willing, with enough patience and care, my children will still be here.