Road Rage Cure

If everyone was required to drive around with something silly in—or on—their car, people might be less angry as they drove around. And after a couple of recent incidents with road rage, that would probably be a good thing.

Most recently, over the weekend, we suddenly—and unintentionally—took a detour into the creepy and frightening land of road rage. I’m not exactly sure what set off the driver who was behind us at a stoplight. It had something to do with my oldest child, in the backseat at the time, who made eye contact with the driver of the other vehicle. She was a middle-aged woman.

Now, I don’t want to meddle in her life, but perhaps she had bottled up too much of the week’s negativity. Whatever it was that set her off, it was very clear that she had a profound need for attention, and she was willing to compromise the safety of everyone else on the road in order to get it.

At the next light, she pulled up beside us and tried to get me to roll down my window. But thank you anyway, I know better than to engage with a crazy stranger. Through the window, I could hear her screaming and cursing, and my peripheral vision was catching her wild gestures.

The light turned green. “Go!” I instructed the fifteen-year-old driver (who remained amazingly calm), and he turned left around the corner. The woman swerved her black Mercedes from a non-turning lane, and that’s when it was clear we weren’t going to lose her any time soon. At the next light, she again pulled up beside us, this time on the left, her hands still waving as her passenger window lowered.

I picked up my phone. We had just passed a cruiser, so I knew there were police in the area. I debated calling 9-1-1, but opted instead for the non-emergency number. But this was not my town, so I had to go through directory assistance, all the while, the woman was in hot pursuit and my son continued to drive.

In the back seat, my daughter was audibly hyperventilating at the same rate that I was silently hyperventilating. As the adult in the situation—and clearly the only adult despite the middle-aged woman in the car beside me screaming obscenities—I was responsible for displaying an impression of utmost calm.

“Police Department, can you hold?” the voice said.

“Uh, not really,” I responded, my heart pounding in my chest. “I’m in a road rage situation.”

Bit by bit, he took pieces of information, and I updated him on my location. One mile. Another. Finally, as the woman pulled up beside me, I was able to read her license directly to the dispatcher, and I think she realized what I was doing. It was at this light that I heard her scream, “Is that your son? You should teach him some manners!”

I have never been more relieved than I was when she turned right onto the side street at that light. She was probably trying to disappear before the police caught up to us.

But the police had her license number and a description of her car. I really hope they found her. It seems she might benefit from a lengthy discussion on, well … manners.

And I would definitely benefit from carrying a silly inflatable animal in the back of my car.

Changing views

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Yesterday, I was having coffee with my boyfriend, and we were planning a future day-trip to Boston. Because of my daughter’s art and her interest in art supplies, I suggested to my parents that they give her a gift card to Blick Art, a place where she has never been but I have (and love!). The main point of our trip will be to visit this amazing artists’ supply store, an awesome excursion for both my daughter and myself. And my boyfriend—he’s a trouper for coming along with us!

We looked at dates and other possible activities, and I pulled up the bus schedule. Sometimes, we take the train into the city, and other times, we drive part way and take the T in. However, because it’s winter, we decided this time, we will take the bus. That way, we won’t have to worry about navigating the narrow, snow-clogged streets. Or parking. And we can relax on the journey.

We chatted and planned, and I began to reminisce about the times I traveled into Boston with my sister when I was a teenager. My parents would take us to the “bus station” in our small town (really, it was just a glorified bus stop) early in the morning, so we could catch the first bus. From my hometown, it is a 2½ hour bus ride into Boston. My sister and I—and sometimes a friend or two—would spend the better part of the day in the city, sightseeing, shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat. Then, we would catch the last bus home, arriving close to 11:00 pm.

In those days, there were no cell phones, and no way to keep in touch or check in. It is possible that we made a quick collect call home from a payphone just to say we had made it to the city, but the specific memories are foggy. I just remember I was in high school, and this was a great adventure.

As I reminisced, I thought about putting my own children on a bus for such a day trip. Would I be content to let them go? Were we more “worldly” than the children of today? My children have cell phones and would be able to check in with me on such a trip.

I looked up from the bus schedule and said, “Is the world really that different—,” and my boyfriend opened his mouth to answer. But I continued….

“—or are we?”

He paused and closed his mouth. He looked at me, and didn’t say anything for a moment. “You know,” he said, “I really don’t know. That last part… I don’t know.”

Perhaps we have been jaded by what the world has become. The constant deluge of media focuses on what is wrong with the world. It plays and replays and replays the same stories of violence, death, and destruction with graphic images and videos until we believe that we are doomed. At the same time, we have become accustomed to constant contact, not only with our children, but with our spouses and partners, our families, our friends, and even our acquaintances.

Maybe the world really hasn’t changed as much as we like to think. Maybe… just maybe… we—along with our views and expectations—are the things that have changed the most.

Watch

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My son and I were shopping, checking items off his packing list for camp. So many things he needed this year, it seemed, perhaps because he was going to a different camp for a more intensive week of training.

I had brought a short shopping list that included a couple of items, but I knew there was one more. What was it? I couldn’t remember. Then we walked past the display of watches. “Oh! You’re supposed to have a watch,” I told him.

He looked at me and then at the watch display. “I hate watches. They’re so annoying,” he reported.

It’s kind of funny how some people wear watches every day and others do not. I started wearing a watch when I was in elementary school, but none of my own children have felt the need to wear one. I wonder sometimes if it has to do with the prevalence of cell phones—if kids have their cell phones, they always have the time.

And we had tried this before—buying a watch. Each of my children has had a watch at one point or another. But it was back when they were quite young, and time wasn’t an issue because I was the keeper of their schedules.

“It’s up to you,” I said. “Your packing list says you need one, but I’m sure some of the other boys won’t have one.”

He walked around the watch display, checking out his options. “This one’s kinda cool,” he said, picking one up and examining it. It had a couple of features beyond the basics. The coolest feature was the time zone feature. Plus, it was water resistant and had an alarm, both of which would be handy at camp.

“If you want it, you can get it,” I told him, knowing the coupon in my pocket would reduce the price. “I’m sure it will be handy to have at camp.” Especially since cell phones wouldn’t be prevalent because electronics were discouraged.

At home, he spent a little time learning the features of the new watch, so he would know how it worked before we left for camp in the morning. (Yes friends, it was a last-minute shopping trip…). The next day, he walked out the door actually wearing his new watch.

A week later, when I picked him up at camp, he was still wearing it. As we walked to the car with his gear, he talked about the experiences he’d had over the past week: the hiking, the cooking, the activities.

Then he smiled that crooked smile he gets when he’s about to say something funny. “You know,” he said. “It’s really convenient to have a watch. You never have to wonder what time it is.”

“Yes,” I replied, looking at my own watch. “It is convenient, isn’t it?”

Few Words

My son is on his school’s annual 8th grade class trip. He is my youngest. He is the third child to go on this class trip. And he is the child of the fewest words.

My first child FaceTimed with me from the long bus ride from our town to the 8th grade destination. It was the day after his birthday, and I had sent cookies on the bus. Likely, there were not enough cookies for everyone on the bus, but he had a lot of cookies. And he wanted to show me all of the fun they were having on the bus.

My second child texted me at various times throughout the day as she endured the long bus ride. Endured is exactly the word I would use. She hates traveling, and she hates sitting in confined spaces for long periods of time. She texted me any time she felt she needed support or distraction.

My third child would likely not have any contact with me whatsoever from the moment I dropped him off until the moment he had to climb back in my car for the drive home. When he left, I reminded him that he had his cell phone and charger, and one quick text at night would let me know that he was still alive and with his school group.

So tonight, I texted him: “Did you have a good day?”

His reply: “yes.” Did I mention that he is a kid of few words?

“Anything exciting happen?” I tried again.

“No.”

Okay then.

Tomorrow, I will ask him about food. That subject should get the attention of any teenage boy, shouldn’t it?

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*Image is a photo of word art at the Culinary Institute of America

eXpectations #atozchallenge

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Sometimes—more frequently than not, nowadays—my children say things that are completely unexpected, and I have a very difficult time maintaining my composure. Sometimes, I just can’t.

We were driving to my parents’ house recently. The drive had been a slow one, and it was getting on toward dinnertime. I asked J to call Grandma from her cell phone to let her know where we were. At that point, we were about 20 minutes away, and had just gotten close enough to civilization to have cell service.

She dialed, held the phone to her ear, and waited. The first thing I didn’t expect was her decision to masquerade as her younger brother, feigning a deeper voice. (Interestingly, despite the deep voice that made her seem more like her brother, she chatted with Grandma as herself.)

When she and Grandma finished their conversation and got ready to hang up, J said, as her parting words, “Stay pretty, Grandma!”

I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was able to pull myself together. And I was driving. Luckily, we arrived at our destination safely.

Driving or not, always expect the unexpected.

Talk-to-Text

Writing 101, Day 7: Let social media inspire you. In this case, texting rather than tweeting.

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On Friday night, my boyfriend discovered the talk-to-text feature on my phone. He was texting my daughter who had just finished her evening performance of “Our Town,” and I needed to let her know we were on our way to pick her up. “Oh look, I can say something!” he announced as he pushed the microphone button and recorded his message. Because he had been privy to J’s iMessage voice recordings to her step-sister on her iPad, he thought he was familiar with this feature. I believe he thought it would send a recorded message that J could listen to.

Instead, it translated his recording into a text message, one that made little sense. He read the first to me. “Hello just seen we are on our way the by.” I glanced over just as he hit “send.”

“Did you just send that message?” I asked, watching his reaction while trying to keep my eye on the road ahead. He looked at me sheepishly and nodded.

“It’s fine,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the road, shaking my head. “She doesn’t know you’re with me, so she won’t know why I am texting,” I said. The thought was meant for him, but it was pretty clear I was speaking to myself. In my peripheral vision, I could see him playing with the microphone button, holding the phone near his mouth again.

He was like a kid with a new toy. He recorded a long message, then read it back. “Is a new place not called our house call to you or town whilst turn it I am actually talking English probably my accent I’m not sure goodbye a deal spot lab what’s in.” And as soon as he finished reading, he hit send again.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I laughed. I wanted to take my phone back, but I was actually somewhat amused. By this point, I knew that J would realize it wasn’t me texting, so I was exonerated of all responsibility. He recorded another message and sent it, then another. “Are those messages even making any sense?” I asked. He had stopped reading them to me before he sent them.

“Not much. She’ll figure it out.” Yeah… I doubt anyone would figure out those messages!

When we pulled up in front of the high school, the last few drama students were out in front waiting for their rides. It was a beautiful night, unseasonably warm. I rolled down my window. J was holding her phone. “Guess who discovered talk-to text?” I asked, and we all burst out laughing.

Snow Days

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When I was a child, snow days (days off from school because of a ‘snow event’) were announced in the early morning hours. If we happened to awaken by 6 am, we could lie in bed listening to the muffled silence that only comes when the world outside is blanketed with a thick, smothering layer of fresh snow. We would strain our ears, listening with all our might for the sound that would be distant, but audible nonetheless. If Mom came in to wake us, our deep listening would prove to be in vain.

The sound we listened for was the blaring of the horn on the firehouse, half a mile away. This was the same horn that would blow to alert us when there was a fire in town (and probably would have sounded for other emergencies, as well); the number of whistles let us know the location of the fire. For an announcement of no school, the signal was 22—two horn blasts with a brief pause before two more horn blasts. A longer pause then followed before the signal was repeated. If we heard that signal—one that seemed so far away, but so close and exciting—we would silently cheer, turn off our alarms, and go back to sleep.

These days, snow days have fallen victim to our constantly advancing technology. No more lying in wait; we are alerted of snow days via recorded cell phone call: “The following is an important message from the local school district…” the voice begins. Often, the calls come in at 5:30 in the morning. But for the big storms, the “sure thing” snow days, we are alerted the evening before, or sometimes even the previous afternoon. Since weather forecasting has become more accurate over the years (well, it often doesn’t seem so, but it has…), there seems to be more advanced warning that a storm really is going to be “epic.” Hence, more warning that it might be wise to cancel school.

Now, the announcement is closer than ever—an in your home and “in your face” type of close. No more wondering if you are going to hear the notice… or if you might merely be imagining the sound in the far off distance. It is clear your phone is ringing, and the message it carries is unmistakable. Now, the children can sleep in, and the morning doesn’t carry the same air of mystery and excitement.

I vividly remember those cold, dark mornings of waiting and listening as an integral part of my childhood winters. I wonder sometimes, if my children are missing out on an important rite of passage. But then I realize that there will be other things they will remember (and miss) when they grow up and have their own children.