Seen of the Street #4: Flashback to My Youth

I got a distressing call yesterday afternoon from Sonny Boy. “Mom, I just rear-ended somebody with the car.” I was tending my flower beds that are starting to get out of control from all the rain we’ve had lately, and the crab grass shoots are trying to take over again.

My parental freedom flashed before my eyes. My head started swirling with thoughts, the first was ‘he’s going to get a ticket and lose his license, then I’ll have to start driving him all over the place again, along with driving the girls because I can’t send him.’ In no particular order came: how am I going to tell his dad about this, was anybody hurt, how much damage was done to our car or the other guy’s. I told him I’d be right there– he was right in front of Girlfriend’s house, which is a couple of blocks away. **Sigh** I’m dirty, smelly, in old flip flops, my hair’s in a bandanna to keep sweat from dripping in my eyes, in clothes which don’t “go together” and now I get to walk through the neighborhood.

I called the non-emergency number for the police as I walked and learned the accident had already been reported and that a car was being sent. It took the dispatcher three attempts before I finally understood his question about gas leaking from the vehicle. [Mental note to self: get hearing in right ear checked. Blast all those loud concerts in my youth. Wait.. that blasting is probably what did my hearing in. Double-drat!] I called Sonny Boy back to say I was on my way and would be there in a minute or two. Just before he hung up I could hear the him and Girlfriend talking about finding the owner of the car, and heard an unfamiliar male voice in the background. Sonny Boy was explaining he had just run into his car…then, nothing. He was gone.

At the scene I find the two of them and the owner of the Unfamiliar Male Voice standing in the street surveying the damage. Sonny Boy introduced me: “This is my Mom.” I may have asked what happened, or maybe not, or he just started talking. “We just pulled out of the driveway, and since there wasn’t anyone parked across from the end of theirs I pulled out really wide because I had room. I looked down to grab my drink and when (Girlfriend) reached for it at the same time I let go so she could have it and looked up and there was the back of the car. I ran into it before I had a chance to stop.” He was saying he was going maybe 5 MPH, and the more he told the story, the faster he got. It went to 10, then 15, then 20. I was ready to tell him to stop telling the story or he’d end up with a speeding ticket by his own admission!

We sat in the shade on the sidewalk, and I idly pulled up weeds next to the short retaining berm we sat on. Sonny Boy sat with his face in his hands, and asked “Are you mad?” I wasn’t–honestly, I wasn’t– disappointed, yes; mad, no. My disappointment wasn’t even in what happened, just that it was so much sooner than I had expected. To avoid answering I started pouring water into my mouth and mumbled “My mouth is full, I can’t talk.” Girlfriend started to laugh. ( I have to explain. In our home, if you get caught talking with your mouth full, you get your hand smacked– parents included. To avoid answering a question any one of us has, on occasion, popped something into our mouth.)

“Am I grounded?”

“Yep, probably.”

“Well, it was fun while it lasted–having my license.” (He got in two months ago.) We both were waiting for a ticket to be issued, which would end his driving until his 18th birthday; so says Michigan law. Which made me think again about having to be Chauffeur Mom.

He was going over what happened aloud again and again and he couldn’t figure out how it happened. He had his hand on the wheel still, but we need a front end alignment, and when the rear wheels went over the speed hump slightly crooked it must have lurched the car to the side. That’s the best we can figure.

While I’ve been playing this whole episode over in my head it made me think back to the first accident I ever had. I was 16, a Junior and it was winter. I was driving home from a basketball game still in my cheerleading outfit, and had two other girls with me. They lived near to me and was driving them home. One of them had a crush on some guy, and we decided to follow him home. I didn’t care, there were two ways for us to get home, and this was one of them. We were about 50 yards behind them when I hit a patch of black ice and slide from the left lane across the right lane and into a snow bank. A man in his 50’s, I’m guessing–he looked older than my parents– hit the rear end of Mum’s now snow-bound car. To this day, I can’t say for sure if he even had his head lights on, but I think not. I got a ticket for “Improper Lane Usage” and 2 points on my license. I dreaded calling my Dad.

When I told him what happened, he surprised me by not flipping out, or yelling. He first asked if everyone was okay, if the car could be driven home. Then he asked me something that took me completely by surprise and has stayed with me ever since. “What did you learn from this?” he asked.

What did I learn!?! That was crazy! All I could think to say, and this is still my opinion some days: “Don’t drive in winter in Michigan.” What on earth kind of question is that to ask your daughter after she’d been rear-ended. I could never figure out why he asked me that, ..until yesterday.

The officer arrived. It wasn’t a very long wait, but long enough, like waiting for the executioner’s axe to fall. You know it’s coming, and you know it’s unavoidable. With a prodding of “On your feet sir,” he was up, getting his papers off the hood of the car. Office asked to see it all, asked about what happened. The Unfamiliar Male Voice said Sonny Boy came to find him and then admitted he would have driven off if it were him. Officer lifted his eye brows and cocked his head– he was impressed. He could have driven away, but instead stayed to face his Driver’s License Executioner.

In that moment, I was proud of my son. The Officer found him at fault, but did not write him a ticket. Sonny Boy and I both know he should have gotten one, and deserved to. The dread washed from behind his eyes. He’d received an act of mercy, and he knew it.

We were talking later that night about what happened that day. He’s been waiting for the Parental Axe to fall, too, and wanted to know what sort of trouble he was in. I asked him what my dad asked me: What did you learn from this today? The look on his face must have matched my own all those years ago. He wasn’t expecting that one at all. I wanted him to remember that taking your eyes off the road, even for a split second, can have very serious consequences. I pointed out that it was just a parked car, but suppose it was someone’s child who ran into the street to chase after a loose ball, then what? I’m not sure the gravity of that possible scenario has sunk in.

What did I learn, after all these years? Parents have lessons to give, and a child can learn from them, even 23 years after the fact. And, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, and teach that to our kids, we all shall be doomed to repeat them.