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

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