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.

Don’t Say Anything…

When I was a kid, my mother made sure I was kind and polite, and she often repeated the adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I will admit that even as a young girl, if I wasn’t careful, I would easily tumble into a snarky comment before I could catch myself. But with my mother’s frequent reminders, I learned to think before I spoke—most of the time, at least.

These days, it seems “If you can’t say anything nice…” has gone by the wayside. More and more frequently, it seems people on social media sites are posting comments specifically to pick a fight. I am not naïve enough to think there are so many full-grown adults who are incapable of recognizing inflammatory remarks when they are posting to social media. Kindness just takes a bit of forethought.

If we are trying to discourage our children from engaging in cyber-bullying, why are so many adults modeling the opposite behavior? Why are we so quick to be nasty to others behind the shield of our computers? In the early days of the Internet, online comments were made under a guise of anonymity. Nowadays, people on social media post their comments—anything from nice and complimentary to mean and judgmental—attached to their full names.

The lack of kindness has grown tiresome, and with everything else that’s going on in society, I have decided I am going to opt out of all this negativity. I am going to create a blog exercise designed to promote positivity. The Positivity Project. Now, I’m not going to argue life is all sunshine and rainbows. Not even close. But I am going to suggest that if we look hard enough, we can find something positive in [just about] every situation. And if we get in the habit of looking for the positive, eventually, it will become second nature, and we will notice the positive without looking.

I would like to puncture the bubble of negativity that threatens our society and instead, start a wave of positive feelings, thoughts, and ideas that can carry us forward from here.

Today was positively productive for me. I completed some necessary work, and I was able to do some cleaning and organizing. And now, I invite you to join me! In the comments below, or on your own blog, write about one positive thing from your day.

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}

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.

Lessons from the Road

So I am at it again—driving with an inexperienced driver. Here’s the funny thing about driving with a new driver: When you get in the car, even if you know where you are going, you never really know how the drive will go. You might have a plan in your head when you embark on the journey, but when you get out of the car, you think, Well, that didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

Take, for example, a drive we went on earlier this week. Unlike my older two children, this child is very anxious to be behind the wheel, and if we are going somewhere, he always asks if he can drive. So this week, we had to travel to the next town (a small city), and we had to get on the highway to get there. It was just past rush hour, and I knew a route that would skirt the main part of town and bring us to our destination without the worry of traffic, turns, and too many stoplights.

Well in advance of the exit ramp, I let the young driver know that the ramp was a sharp curve, and he would want to slow down. Way down. But the exit comes up quickly and there is traffic coming onto the highway that needs to be negotiated. As we careened around the turn, my son said, “Wow, that is a sharp curve!” But he was able to maintain control as he finally slowed to a better pace.

I took a couple deep breaths to calm my heart rate as he merged with the cars on the new road, and I said, “You’re going to want to get into the left lane.” I pointed ahead. “See that light? You’ll be turning left there.”

“Right there?” he asked, gesturing with a tilt of his head, as his hands were on the steering wheel.

“Yes,” I responded as we moved closer to the intersection that I was looking at. We remained two lanes away from the left-est lane. In my head, I knew we could go straight and still get to our destination, and I only briefly considered mentioning that by left lane, I meant all the way to the left. But I decided to let it slide.

We went straight through the light, and he asked where he was supposed to turn. “Back there,” I replied. “But you’re fine. We can get there this way.” In the end, we arrived at our destination safely and in plenty of time, and we got some unexpected experience navigating the city streets.

And I learned a valuable lesson, because learning is not exclusive to one person in any given teaching experience. I need to remember that even though—in my head, and with my years of experience—this driving thing is very straightforward, for a rookie navigator, the road system is a maze of unchartered territory. It’s always best to keep directions simple. Maybe we go a bit out of our way, but in doing so, we avoid the panic of directions given too swiftly and followed recklessly. It’s a process, this business of driving a car, and well… practice.

The point of driving hours is to practice rather than to reach a destination. Destination will be the next step. In the meantime, keep your hands on the wheel. Keep your seatbelt on. And (as Dad always said) watch out for the other guy.

Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.