Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Inches and Seconds and Luck

Last week, something really scary happened to me -- or nearly happened.  A tiny child came within a whisker’s breadth of losing his life. He is fine - no harm to anyone. Except perhaps the shattered nerves of the two mothers who saw it happen.

I was picking up my youngest from pre-school. I started the car and did my usual check. Are you buckled, small person? Affirmative. Then I checked my mirrors and looked over my shoulder before I put the car in reverse and started to back out. 


I hadn’t gone more than a few feet when I noticed the door of the minivan next to me opening. I SLAMMED on my brakes, causing the van to rock a little as it stopped. Then I saw the tippy top of a small head walking an inch from the passenger side of my massive van. A small boy then climbed into the open door of the vehicle parked next to me. A second after that, his mother came running behind him, a baby in her arms.

She looked to make sure her son was all right, looked at me, and burst into tears. 

She apologized and I apologized back and then she said no, really. And I said it’s OK and she said it back and I almost said it again but really, we both knew it wasn’t OK. 

For no reason that I can explain, she picked the exact right moment to press the button on her key chain to open the automatic door. I saw it and stopped. If that door hadn’t opened, I wouldn’t have hit the brakes until I hit her son. Even if I’d had one of those fancy rear view cameras, I wouldn’t have seen him until he ran directly behind my van. [Editor's note: This is why I HATE going backwards in any car. I get twitchy and wish I had eyeballs everywhere. -Guru]

I’ve been that mom running after her kid in the parking lot screaming “NOO! STOOPPP!” with a baby in her arms. It happens to all moms at some point. Kids dart away from even the most attentive parents, and it happens so quickly that there’s no time to stop it. It is no one’s fault. But it’s terrifying all the same.

On a good day, my brain whirs and whizzes and won’t slow down. I spent a lot of time begging my brain not to go there: What if I’d hit him? What if I’d felt the van make contact but I hadn’t hit the brakes fast enough?  I wouldn’t know what it was. I would have seen nothing. In sharp and horrible contrast, his mother would have been a step behind him - watching and helpless to stop any of it. Her arms aching to reach him and pull him to safety, but holding her other baby and too far away. It's a recurring theme in my nightmares, reaching out to save my child and not getting there in time.

If I had hit that little boy... 

This experience has left me feeling slightly off-kilter. It was a matter of inches and seconds and luck and fate and grace that kept the worst from happening. Is that how life works? Is that what protects us from disaster? Inches and seconds and luck and fate and grace? Because yes. It appears that sometimes it does.  

But then sometimes it doesn’t. 

Horrible things happen every day for no reason. Children are lost. Parents die. Where are the inches and seconds and luck for them? I know the sane and mature response to this is to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. We know intellectually that the world is an uncertain and sometimes dangerous place. We accept it for what it is and do the best we can. 

But sometimes you get a window into just how little control we have over anything. That moment in the parking lot cracked open the window for me. I don’t like the view. I know what I’m seeing is real. Maybe more real than the illusion my suburban life affords me: We are safe. My children are safe. But then... There are the inches and seconds and luck right outside my window. I don’t want to to think about them. I want to swallow back The Fear and go on believing everything is fine. 

I’m sure someone is reading this right now and thinking: you need to keep calm and take some meds, lady. You live in northern Virginia and you’re crying because the world is so frightening and dangerous. Nothing happened to you or to the boy. He probably didn’t even realize what was going on. Meanwhile, in Syria...

I get that. I really do. But this thing happened and I need to make sense of it. Also, I have a very annoying, Oprah-like tendency of always trying to find the lesson. 

Just as I did not like looking out the window, I don’t think I like the lesson here. I think it’s about being mindful and present, two things I am not. And I know this is stupid, but changing is going to be really difficult for me. Because I hate paying attention and I really like zoning out. I’m not sure I even know how to be mindful. I think that’s only for people who do yoga and say "Namaste". I am not one of those people. 

I go through big stretches of each day on auto-pilot, just trying to get through the thing and onto the next thing. I don’t even realize how many choices I’m making, how many consequences I’m throwing out there. There are long stretches where I’m focused and engaged, but it would be a lie to say that I don’t check out mentally far more than I should. Even when I get a chance to just sit and catch a moment, I choose to check out. I look at my phone and call it down time. 

The moment that little boy ran behind my van, I was paying attention. I am so profoundly grateful for that. I think I need to respect the wake-up call that I was lucky enough to get. Ultimately, I may have no control over this unsafe, sometimes terrifying world. But that doesn’t give me permission to check out of it. I’m going to keep that scary window cracked open for a while, as a reminder of how important it is to keep looking around. 

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013

42 comments:

  1. Wonderful piece!

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    1. Wow. I don't blame you for being so affected by this. I think moving on would be making little of it. I agree that your kindness to the other mom is also a grace. Thanks for the moving post.

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    2. Wow. I don't blame you for being so affected by this. I think moving on would be making little of it. I agree that your kindness to the other mom is also a grace. Thanks for the moving post.

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    3. You summed it up: "It was a matter of inches and seconds and luck and fate and grace that kept the worst from happening." A recurring problem in our culture, zoning out and not being present. Usually, it's just annoying (re-measuring 3c of flour), but can be a matter of life/death.) I was traumatized 25 yrs ago, while working at a drycleaners, when a young uncle brought in bloodied clothes of his 2 yr old nephew who was crushed by his granddad backing out his 2 ton truck in the family driveway. Horrified, I let another clerk serve the customer. Stay in the present moment............

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  2. wow. I'm always on auto pilot...every time i see an accident on the road I'm wondering how i've been spared.

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  3. Your post brought me to tears and also reminded me of another blog I read. It is also 2:45 am and my 3 month old just does not want to fo back to sleep, so I am a bit... groggy. Here you go! http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2013/01/can-you-imagine.html?m=1

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    1. OMG! I loved the above post. Made me tear up at work and really highlighted this story nicely.

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  4. God has a plan for you, that child and that mom. All of you will be changed for the better and something you do or don't do in the future as a result of this incident will be huge. It's ok momma but boy do I understand.

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  5. Very thought-provoking piece of writing. Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Please consider lighting a candle at 7 pm to honor those lost babies. And give little ones you are lucky enough to be able to hold an extra kiss and count your blessings!

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  6. Been there. done that. I was the mom sprinting through the Walmart parking log as my son cheerfully ran across roads. Thank God the man in the truck was in the moment. Then I turned around and realized that crunching sound under my back tires was a scooter. Again, thankful it was my son's scooter, and he was in school, and not a child playing. The shakes didn't go away for some time. But I obsess and will lay awake for hours replaying what if's all night. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

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  7. Guardian angels. That's all I can say. Yours AND the kid's were working overtime together. Thank God everyone was OK.

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  8. I know exactly how you feel! Thanks you for reminding me I need to remember to be in the moment more than I have been!

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  9. I'm so glad the little boy is OK! I do want to say to you though... give yourself a break. You WERE paying attention. And while, yes, it's good to think about the consequences of your actions before you do things, and also, yes, it's good to be focused and engaged - NO ONE can be focused and engaged ALL THE TIME, and also NO ONE is perfect. Please don't try to be perfect, that way lies madness. You are perfectly you, and that's a good thing. Try to embrace that, instead of trying to be someone "perfect". I don't know you, but I do know you are much too hard on yourself sometimes. (A lot.)

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  10. Great stuff! I think if people had or even heard about enough close calls like this, they would know when it's best to NOT be on auto-pilot. Like every minute of driving time, or when the batteries need changing in your smoke or CO2 detectors, or walking with multiple kids in parking lots or other crowded places, or as a gun owner, and so many more. But worrying and fretting won't make things better, just being aware and teaching kids to be aware is about all you can do. The rest is in God's hands.

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  11. Yes. Yes. Yes. I write about this in the book I'm working on-- the illusion of control. xoxo

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    1. Oh Anna... I've been thinking about you so much lately. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. Why do we feel so compelled to pretend that the world makes sense when it so clearly doesn't? Does it make sense to you? Because if it makes sense to you, then maybe I need to try harder or change my worldview or meditate or medicate or something. I don't know. xoxo.

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    2. I think we need the illusion of control. Because the flip side is that we can't control much, which is OK ( maybe even cool) when you're young and stupid, but when other small lives depend on you, it's unacceptable. I think we only manage to have kids when we can convince ourselves that we do have control. It's a biological imperative to fool ourselves so the species can continue. And we translate "bad shit not happening to me" as " look how in control I am!", when it's really just, who knows? Life I guess. I ran over my son's bike 2 years ago, no one was on it. I can't stop hearing the whack of my bumper or the sickening thud when I went over it. No one was on it. For no reason. So you're in control, unless you're not. And it's not always possible to tell the difference.

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  12. Clearly this proves my theory that it is unsafe at any time to venture outside.

    ok, just kidding. sort of.

    Be mindful. and present. And don't always be thinking about the next thing. Yep.

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  13. I'm sorry for you. But thank you for sharing this. It's a good reminder. I also hate backing up!

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  14. This exact thing happened to a friend our family. She wrote a book about it, here-
    http://amzn.to/167zdrO
    I can't imagine the horror of something actually happening. As a father of 4, I am always ultra aware of dangers that can happen, but even for me, being on top of my game, aware of every stinking thing that could possible pose a threat, I've had close calls as well. It happens, its life. We just all hope it doesn't happen to us. Way to stay alert, your mommy senses tuned to the level of a crack addicted ADD monkey saved the day.

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  15. I have been there and you just have to realize sometimes you don't have control and hope things work out. I was 5 months pregnant when a neighbor's kid came zooming out of a driveway to ride down the hill on the street at top speed. With no helmet. With no shoes. Right into the path of my SUV. In front of my house. And I hit him.

    Somehow even though the bike was under my SUV he was fine. Angels working overdrive. He was terrified and ran off without saying a word. My entire neighborhood was outside in seconds.

    When ever issues like Newton come up in my house, I tell my 8 year old. I will do ever thing in my power to protect you but I can't be with you all the time. You must be aware and trust other to be on the lookout for you. It is big scary world.

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  16. This actually HAPPENED to a girl I grew up with... her little girl, backed over in her very own driveway in her view, by a contractor that was working at her house. She's dedicated her life to preventing these accidents from happening to anyone else. Check out her website here: http://www.annabellesangels.net/home.html

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  17. All I can do is send a big hug. (((Squeeze!)))

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  18. ok, time to go wipe the tears from my eyes!

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  19. This was a great post and a good reminder to stay vigilant.

    At the same time, I am in that place with circumstances that have helped me realize I AM NOT IN CONTROL of everything and never will be. And that God has a path for all of us and we have to make the most of each day and not live in fear of the "what ifs?".

    My prayer each day is that I am the best steward of what God has given me for that day (my children, my circumstances, my husband, my time, my finances, etc.). That I honor Him with my decisions. And that when that inevitable day comes that I meet Him in heaven, that He would say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

    That helps me keep things in perspective when life just seems icky and scary. I battle an anxiety disorder, so I REALLY have to work on this each day. Otherwise, I would not be able to do what I do and live each day to the fullest I am able.

    For example, I have no explanation other than my peace that God's will is God's will that I Iet my boys go downhill skateboarding (yes, the kind where they go flying downhills at mach speed doing powerslides), but of course, helmets are required or the skateboards will become firewood for the next beach bonfire (just kidding). I am letting my husband take my 11 year old son on a journey in January from the southern border of Mexico, 3 hours into Guatemala to meet up with some old missionary lady we have never met, to drive her back to Mexico with them because she knows people there that are going to help them plant churches in that area to help combat the epicenter of human trafficking of the world, which is that Mexican border town. No I am not kidding, and can you imagine the 8 million thoughts that go through my head every day about that one? I am sure I will have a mental breakdown when they leave and my other two children remaining home with me will surely be lucky if I am able to open a can of soup for them to eat. Probably will have to ask for a mealtrain while the hubby is gone, so my children don't starve while I am dry heaving from panic attacks.

    But, my point being, that I just have to constantly remind myself, that if this what God has given me, and asked of me, it's in His hands, and will work out for good, no matter how painful (or wonderful). And if I ruminate too long on all the close calls and what ifs, I'll be paralyzed and miss out on all the fun :)

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  20. I think the preschool parking lot might be the world's most dangerous place to drive (or walk!). After a couple of years of waiting in the lobby an extra 15 minutes to let the lot clear out before going to my car with the tiny people, I started taking the farthest spot in the parking lot, which was accessible by walking around the edge of the lot on a sidewalk, and very few other people parked nearby. For the remainder of my preschool years we were able to walk to the car without fear of being run over and back out of the parking spot with less worry about a loose toddler coming my way (that worry never completely goes away at the preschool!).

    I'm sorry you had such a scare, but grateful everything turned out okay. Buy yourself a little peace of mind by passing up that perfect spot right by the door in favor of one in the far corner of the lot where there are fewer children running loose. As a bonus, you get to count the extra distance you have to walk as exercise!

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  21. Definitely a scary moment. I must confess here, i dont think id have been clear enough to hit the brakes when you did. It seems when i see things that require quick thinking, i freeze first- and slooooooowly process whats going on/needs to be done. Theres no split second response. Ugh. The times i react without thi.king first, are the times i SHOULD process. You know, like when the kids act up, and i flip the switch into crazy mom. Ugh.

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  22. Mommy shame story:

    Sometimes in the morning, while my two year old is not-so-quietly playing in his room, i sneak out to the back porch for facebooking and a quiet cup of coffee.

    This particular morning, as im swinging on the porch swing, gossiping with my sister- and totally tuning out the toddler chatter coming from inside the house, my dog started acting strangely. He was under the porch swing, whining at something behind me. It didnt really catch my attention till he started barking (not a normal "someones at the fence" frantic type of bark- just a yip-pause-yip type of situation) As i started scolding the dog for what i assumed was him barking at my jerk face neighbor (who reports me for every yip to the HOA) I stood up and looked behind me to see what he was barking at- which was nothing. Just as i turn to sit back down, i see my two year old, face and hands pressed into the screen of his bedroom window- which happens to be about twelve feet above the ground! Trying with all his might to lean into the screen far enough to see us on the porch!! If it hadn't been for my sometimes annoyingly overprotective, wonderful angel of a Queensland Heeler- my baby could have been so hurt. Or worse.

    Needless to say, two year old comes outside with me now when i have coffee on the porch, and his bedroom no longer has a toy box in front of his permanently CLOSED window.

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    1. I can't tell you how many times I have freaked out when one of the big kids opens one of our old drafty windows that have screens a breeze could knock out. I was super lucky to be in my biggest kid's room one day when the tiniest almost went out the window. I've installed these clips that don't let the windows open more than 2 inches. Even with them, I think I will permanently worry after my "big scare". Probably even when they've moved out!

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  23. This reminds me of a time when a little boy--4? 5?--popped out in front of me as I was driving. He was sort of behind bushes in a driveway and rode his bike across his driveway (behind bushes) and popped out into the lane I was in. I had little time to react. I hit my brakes, but hit the boy. I jumped out of the car and I tell you, the sound of that child crying was the sweetest sound. I was so scared that I had seriously injured him, or worse. He actually was okay, praise the Lord. I think I sat there and shook, his mom came out and yelled at him (adrenaline!!) and asked me about my car, which I seriously couldn't have cared less about. I was just so glad I wasn't going any faster. This was years ago and it is definitely not a memory that has faded like most do. I do think about how many close calls we and our children have. It is just really scary.

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  24. Something I've started doing lately because of my fear of hitting a child behind me is to roll my window down at least part way and back very slowly. I know even if I've checked everywhere I can possible check visually, some child might be where I can't see him. If I hear a yell, I know to stop, even if I can't see why. Maybe it could save someone.

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  25. excellent (albeit scary) reminder to be present. thank you.

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  26. Last week I reached out to you because someone I love very much had unexpectedly lost their two and a half year old child. The pain of not knowing what to do or say how to make her feel better was awful, but it was Christmas morning compared to what she is going through. I told you she was a reader of the blog and within 10 minutes, you had posted a message of kindness to her that over a hundred women responded to...Many of them are in the same boat and were able to offer resources that will, down the road, be very helpful as she establishes a "new normal"...My point in reminding you of this is that not all "mindfuls and presents" are the same. You are mindful in a much bigger picture kind of way. You are mindful of the huge load we moms carry and you use your incredible talent to provide us a ten minute break every day to laugh and relax and feel as though we are part of a community - that we are not alone in our idiocy, our joy, our worries and our sorrows. That talent has allowed you to bring your message to a larger audience so that we can be mindful. Now, when I head to carpool, it will be two hands on the wheel and my cell in my purse and windows cracked and the 10 or so other great tips that have been posted here. I'll wait in line without angrybirds because I need to be 100% aware in that environment. You've made us all a little more mindful and that is a big deal - and somewhere down the road, there's a little boy or girl that will benefit from this as they run away from their mom in the parking lot.

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  27. Thank God nothing happened. But take it easy on yourself! This is a situation where a parent MUST have control of their children. No one can see their little heads until it is too late, and a parking lot is the most dangerous place. You would never let your child run in traffic, why let them run free in a parking lot? Use a cart, whatever but why take a chance. I have been in the same situation as you, and a whole family letting their little ones run behind my car just as I was starting to back. I think that is the lesson here.....parents need to be present, and not just hope for the best.

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  28. Dear mommyland,

    I recently just came across your blog and I really like it. Reading this posts is bitter sweet for me because I have known someone who wasn't so lucky. I am so glad you bring this to light because the person I know had zero luck that day. A gentlemen I went to church with was backing out of his driveway and ran over his 2 year old daughter killing her instantly. The chills are running down my body as I am typing this. This gentleman and his wife are 2 of the most devout, faithful people I know. I have tried to make since of it, but I guess sometimes stuff just happens in life. I cannot fathom what these people have and are going through on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing this because I am confident that everyone reading this will look inward and be a little more cautious from now on. As a parent my one true nightmare is losing my daughter (who is 6 now) in a tragic way. I have always been the type of parent that is mindful of my surroundings and hands on with protection. Our children are simply the greatest gifts bestowed upon us. Sorry for the long reply, but sometimes reading things like this just punches me right in the gut. Parents...... don't ever waiver or lose focus for any split of a second for it only takes a single wrong move to change your life forever. God Bless you all!

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  29. I read this post yesterday, and for some reason I had already been feeling a little anxious all day. I've been holding my son's place with a home care provider who has been wonderful with the toddlers and preschoolers of family and friends for many years. So, I pay for full-time care while I job search and just take him two days so I can get used to being away from him and she can get familiar with my son. But my son is only 3 month old, and I just can't shake the feeling that she is not as great with infants as with older kids. Short story long, sorry, but I read this after feeling anxious, then felt like I needed to get to the sitter's house faster to pick him up and make sure he was OK. When I got there, he was in a separate room from the rest of the kids and the caregiver, with his face buried in the fluffy comforter he was sleeping on, tummy down on the floor. My stomach dropped. He was fine, but for a brief second I was sure he had suffocated. I don't know that he wouldn't have been fine if I hadn't gotten there when I did (due to your story exacerbating my anxiety, causing me to hurry to get to him). But what I got from this is trust your instincts (as you did when you slammed on your brakes upon seeing that door open - that had to be instinctual because you couldn't have had time to think). So I'm trusting my instinct that my baby needs different child care. Thank you for sharing your experience, even though I'm pretty sure I'm interpreting it a little differently than you intended/expected.

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  30. Similar thing happened to me in the grocery store parking lot. I looked in my side mirror at exactly the right moment. Mom and 3 small children were coming to get into the car next to me. I still get that pit in my stomach when I think about what could have happened.

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  31. My almost 10 year old daughter was leaving dance class and I was parked at the curb on the opposite side of the street. It was raining and about dark and she ran out so excited to see me and hit the road. As she stepped off the curb a car was coming (slowly thank God) in the opposite direction. There was a car parked on the opposite curb blocking my daughter's view of the car. She came thisclose to being hit. It was so freaking scary. I opened my window and hollered at her and then the lady who'd almost hit my daughter, rolled down her window and started cussing at me. I know she was scared but I was so taken aback at her rant I didn't know what to do. I think I yelled back. Now, I roll down the window, talk to my daughter and remind her to look both ways and then look again. And I can still feel my heart pound at what almost happened.

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  32. Since I first read this post, I have been making a conscious effort to be more mindful while driving. The other day, on my way home from picking my son up from daycare, a young teenager jogger darted out of an alley between two cars right in front of me as I was coming down the street. I hit the breaks and only barely missed hitting her. After calming myself and my 2-year-old down, I thought to myself, "Damn, I'm glad I read that Rants From Mommyland post the other day." I'm betting that girl (and her parents) are pretty grateful I read it too. Thanks for posting this story - it may just have saved a kid's life.

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    1. Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

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  33. I teared up reading this... because I was that mother who's 3 year old darted out from my car to get across the parking lot to daddy while I was holding my baby. There was nothing I could do but scream at the top of my lungs as I watched an SUV coming for my child. By the grace of God, luck, and literally an inch, it came to a screeching halt. I burst into tears... my daughter burst into tears... and the passenger in the SUV burst into tears. It was 4 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Thank you for not only highlighting the need to be aware but reminding us that sometimes we need to really try to be in the moment and not on auto-pilot as we as moms often are!

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