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.

Lessons from the Tollbooth

Every experience, good or bad, can be considered an adventure. And every adventure, positive or negative, has its lessons. Let me set the scene….

It is 6:00 in the morning. It is still dark, and there is an unmistakable crispness in the air, despite the calendar’s July date. My daughter and I are traveling an unfamiliar highway in a Midwestern state to get to the airport for an early flight home from a nearly week-long adventure.

I have my electronic toll pass in the car with me, and even though it is from our home state, in theory, it should work here. The toll experience on the way in was spotty, but we made it through. Our home state removed the gates on their tollbooths many years ago in favor of speed and efficiency. Such is not the case here in this Midwestern state.

At the first tollbooth, we pull up to the gate, but the booth does not pick up the signal from our transponder. I wave it around in the car. Nothing. I push the “help” button on the tollbooth, and a male voice wishes me a good morning. I explain my situation. He asks me to read my transponder number. Um… it’s fairly dark in the car and I don’t have my reading glasses, but I don’t tell him this. I pass the transponder to my daughter. She reads the number, and I repeat it to the voice in the void. Once he confirms that I do, in fact, have an account, the gate rises, and I drive through.

After an hour or more on the road, the second tollbooth comes into view. We pull up, fully expecting (well… hoping for) our toll pass to work. Of course, it doesn’t. I roll down the window and lean way out, holding it under the barcode scanner that I discovered at the last tollbooth. The bright red laser line crosses the code. I watch the gate, but it doesn’t move from its persistent placement directly in front of the car. I push the “help” button and wait for a friendly voice. Nothing. In my rear view mirror, I see a semi truck approaching, but I figure he will go into a different toll lane. He doesn’t. In seconds, the massive rig is directly behind my car. We are trapped, and my daughter is trying desperately to hold herself together as she begins to panic in the seat beside me.

I step out of the car into the chilly dawn air, transponder in hand. I frantically wave it in front of the scanner while simultaneously pushing the “help” button. This tollbooth is completely unresponsive—nothing functional here, it seems. I breathe deeply, forcing air into and out of my lungs. I turn to the truck driver behind me. I muster my most helpless and apologetic expression and I shrug, still holding my transponder in my hand.

He pauses for two seconds. Then motions for me to get back in my car, and he begins to slowly back up so I can switch to a lane with a real, live attendant. But not only does he back up, he angles his truck in such a way as to block any traffic that might be approaching. Oh, bless you! I think to myself. I roll down my window as I move over several lanes, and I wave my thanks.

“How many more tollbooths do we have to go through?” my daughter asks quietly.

I sigh, reluctant to tell her. “I think only one,” I say, keeping my tone low and tender.

It’s finally light out when the third—and final—tollbooth comes onto the horizon. The tension I feel from the passenger seat is pulling on my heart. I take a deep breath. “It will be fine,” I say by way of calming us both down. And it is. We sail right through. What? How is that possible? I glance in my rearview mirror, looking for answers that are not there. I take a deep breath and finally relax.

We survived and have had substantial time to decompress, and I am happy to share the lessons I gleaned from my not-so-good-morning at the tollbooth:

Don’t believe everything you hear or read on the Internet. We heard our toll transponder would work, but I checked the website to confirm. Even so, our transponder didn’t work exactly as we’d hoped.

Trust that people will work with you and rely on the kindness of strangers. For the most part, if people see you are in a tough situation, they generally offer their assistance. That could come as a helping hand, but it could also come as a truck driver backing up and blocking oncoming traffic so you can do what you need to do.

Always have an escape plan, or just a plan, in general Even if you don’t need it, it is good to have a plan in the back of your head. Just think, for a moment, about what you will do if you get stuck. What is it they say…? Anticipate the worst but hope for the best.

Be a calming force for those around you. Now in reality, I had no idea how we were going to get out of our predicament. But experience tells me that these things have a way of working themselves out. And after only a brief panic, they did work out. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone being permanently stuck in a tollbooth?

{Image: FreeImages.com / Travis Cripps}

[Mom] Behaving Badly

There are days when where we should be is a vast distance from where we are. We should be close to self-sufficiency. We should be willing to go places on our own. We should be able to find things (tools, shoes, staplers, sweatshirts, etc.) within the confines of our not-very-large house. And in the moments when we can’t do whatever it is, my failings as a mommy come tumbling in on me like a building with an unstable foundation. How, I ask myself, have I failed to provide the very basic skills required for navigating the world?

Two steps forward, one step back, I remind myself. But when all three children are experiencing lapses at the same time, it is sometimes more than I have patience for. On these days, I want to throw everyone out of my house, barricade the door, sink to the floor and melt into a river of never-ending tears. Not very mature, I know, but I am the only parent, and the entire burden of raising productive members of society falls on my shoulders. And my shoulders are weary. Some days, the cracks brought on by the weight of my life are more evident than others.

Perhaps the long stretches of dreary weather have affected my usually positive outlook. We have had a more than healthy portion of bad weather, experiencing spring in one-day spurts that only show us what we are missing. It has been cold and rainy for months. And non-stop rain and heavy storm clouds can really wear on a girl. Enough already!

But then I remind myself that this moment—the moment when I want to barricade the door—is one moment in the grand scheme of things. We are moving in a forward direction… generally. My children may stumble, but they continue to grow and change and become young adults. It takes time, but they (hopefully) will figure out how to get things done. My mood will improve. Once I’ve wallowed in my puddle of tears long enough, I will stand up, adjust my burden on my shoulders, and move on.

And if the weather doesn’t change… well, at least the drought is over.

The Driver

I have found myself in the interesting situation of no longer needing to drive my own car. Well, not very often, at least. I can sit in the passenger seat, look out the window, and enjoy the ride.

I have moved into “chauffeur mode.” In this mode, I announce that I have to go somewhere, and I immediately hear, “Can I drive?” It doesn’t matter if I was planning to go alone or with my newest driver. New driver will find any trip—real or imaginary—a chance to do the driving and rack up some of the 40 hours he needs behind the wheel before he can get his license. Never mind that he is still 4+ months away from being of licensing age.

Imaginary trips involve the need to make up places to go just so he can get behind the wheel. We have taken a trip to Lowe’s for a three dollar package of screws, spending more in gas to get there than we did on the actual purchase. I think this kid would be more than happy to drive me around town in search of places that didn’t exist. Perhaps we could start a new adventure: new driver geo-caching from behind the wheel. Not only would they be driving the car, they would have to navigate while also paying attention to necessary land marks. Obviously, the kids would have to get out of the car to access the actual treasure and sign into the log at the end, but that would aid in the ever-challenging skill of parking the car.

In truth, I appreciate the fact that this driver is eager to get behind the wheel and regularly asks to drive. My other two were a bit more reluctant as far as volunteering, or even wanting to drive, often saying no when asked. And even though I am in “chauffeur mode,” I still have to constantly keep my eyes on the road.

If we cut a corner too close, and I say, “You’re going to hit the curb,” the reply comes instantly.

“I’m not going to hit the—” his voice breaks off when the rear wheel scrapes the edge of the curb.

But we are still early in the driving process, still learning to judge distance and where the car is on the road. My job as the chauffeured will become easier with time and practice. And soon enough, he’ll get his license. Then he’ll say, “Hey, can I drive?” And he’ll walk out the door, get in the car, and drive away without me.

Messages

I’ve written about my blocks before—my “grown up” alphabet letter blocks. It was the end of December when I wrote a post about how my children often …um, alter the messages I create, changing the words to nonsense or silliness.

But the current message on our blocks has remained unchanged for a while now—almost since that December post. In fact, I think this is the longest running message we’ve had without some sort of interference at the hands of the teenagers in the house. But that’s because this message is special; it was created in a deeply emotional moment—one that we all survived—and no one has the heart to disturb it.

It was the night my dad passed away; the children had gone to bed, and I couldn’t sleep. I was gathering all of the items we would need for an indefinite amount of time away from home, but I was directionless. I sat down on the floor of the living room, and in a mess of tears, I composed the message—Love to Heaven—tracing the letters with my finger.

My children didn’t see the new message until we returned from our time away. “Look what Mrs. L did with our blocks!” they summoned me into the room. Mrs. L is the neighbor who had been feeding our cats and taking in our mail while we were away. I went into the living room and looked to the top of the shelf.

I half smiled to myself. “No,” I told the kids. “I did that. I wrote that message the night before we left, while you were all sleeping.” I turned away and went back to the kitchen, hiding the tears that now flow freely and often.

Those moments, nearly five months ago now, they were a time of deep and pervasive sorrow. And while grief remains with me, it has found pockets in my life where it can emerge safely—when I am alone in the car, in the morning when I get ready for my day, in the evening when I prepare dinner. And there are also the sneak attacks that take me by surprise, and probably always will.

But the message has served its purpose of comfort to all who read it. And now, perhaps maybe we could use these blocks—as we have in the past—to summon the resistant summer weather. With reluctance, I will change this long-standing message. It will take courage to sit on the floor, dismantle the words, and scramble the blocks. I will remember the last time I turned these blocks in my hands to find just the right letters—the moment when creating the perfect message was so very important.

A Mom’s Reflections on High School

When I was a teenager, I attended high school. Well, you’re thinking. Didn’t we all?

Yes, we did. But recently, I have become convinced that many of us block out the truth of our high school experience—the feelings of being a lone boat adrift on an endless sea—and that is a distinct barrier to effectively parenting our teenage children.

In reality, my high school experience is the single best training I have in my quest for effectively relating to my own teenagers, and I will be a better parent if I can tap into the feelings I had in high school.

If I can recall all the times I felt out of place and lonely, when I was laughed at or pushed aside, I will be able to relate to my children when they come to me in tears after being rejected or treated poorly by a peer or peer group.

If I can conjure the relief that came with the end of the school year and the long summer vacation, I will be able to reassure my children that two months off fixes a great many ills that have festered over the long months of a confining academic year.

If I can elicit the intense need I felt to stretch my wings beyond the walls of the school, I can help my children to see the promise of the future rather than dwell in the tedium of the daily life of cliques and classes.

If I can remember all the reasons I was never seen without a book tucked under my arm and all the times I used the book to hide, I can help my kids find their own healthy means of escape.

But most importantly, if I am able to reflect back on my own high school career with an honest perspective—remembering both the good times and the challenging, I can help my kids to recognize that high school may not be the best four years, but it doesn’t have to be the worst four years, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a period of intense growth as they begin to discover who they are and what they want from life.

Yes, I attended high school. And yes, my four years in that environment can help me to better understand and empathize with my children. I will be a better parent if I can not only tap into the feelings of being in high school, but be willing to share those feelings and experiences with my own children.

And maybe, just maybe—as we navigate the challenges—I can convince my kids that they not only have the ability to make their own lives better, they also have the opportunity to better the lives of the other students they pass in the hallways.

Of Memory and Circuses

In honor of the final show of the of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus that is happening today, May 21, I thought I would reminisce on the circuses of my past. In truth, my life as a single mom is often a bit of a circus, but I will stick to a discussion of circuses in the entertainment sense of the word.

When I was very young, I attended my first circus. I don’t remember how old I was, and I don’t remember where the circus was. I only remember that it was under a tent in a large field. It was a cold, rainy day, and my very scattered memories of that event include the fabric of the tent, the hay that was scattered on the ground to keep the mud under control, and the mingling smells of damp hay, dirt, and animals. I remember Dad’s large, warm hand holding my small one as we made our way to our seats. And that is pretty much my only recollection of that trip to the circus.

My second trip to the circus did not involve a performance under a tent. This one was a performance of The Great Moscow Circus in a large indoor arena about an hour from our home. [Side note: my childhood took place during the Cold War years]. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though I cannot remember the season of the year; I think it may have been somewhat cool outside. We made our way to our seats, and Dad left to visit the men’s room before the show began. A few minutes later, as my sister and I bounced in our seats in anticipation, we heard an announcement that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen….” The announcer continued, letting us know that we needed to evacuate the arena. We had a brief moment of disbelief before Mom gathered us up and headed for the door. As we descended the stairs and began to move toward the exit, we met up with Dad, and we made our way back to the car. We sat in the car, listening to the local radio station, but no news came as to why we had to evacuate. After a time, we were allowed back in the building, and the show went on as if nothing had happened. Later, we would learn there had been a bomb threat which necessitated the evacuation for a thorough search. I don’t remember any of the show that day, only the evacuation.

My third trip to the circus was to celebrate my younger son’s sixth birthday. We went to the Ringling Brothers pre-show first, where we met some of the clowns and saw some of the performers. I’m not sure how much of that experience my children will remember as time marches on. This is the only circus performance I remember—because it was much more recent—and I only remember bits and pieces. I think traditional circuses tend to be far too busy and flashy to appeal to those of us who can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

The moral of my circus story is that parents can spend time with children in all kinds of activities. Ultimately, what children will remember is the time together (and sometimes any occurrences out of the ordinary) rather than the activity, itself.