“Mom, can you come up to McDonald’s? There’s been an accident.”
This is not what a parent wants to hear at 7:30 in the morning — heck, at any time of day — but it’s a very real possibility every time a kid drives off.
I distinctly recall, in gut-clenching detail, the feeling when my first kid drove off with one of her friends at the wheel. I’m not so old that I can’t remember the feeling of freedom the first time “Teenage Me” got in a car with a friend, but that memory slid into my mental back seat watching a newly licensed teen drive my daughter away.
Only weeks before, I had been driving that exact pairing of kids around. How could she go from the back seat of my minivan to the driver’s seat of her own car so quickly?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“Have fun!” I waved. I wanted to be the mom excited for them both and I like to think that I faked it well.
(I’m sure I didn’t.)
The twist of worry when one of my kids drives off with a friend, or on their own, has yet to go away. I slap on a bandage-emotion, an out-of-sight-out-of-mind feeling, but I still give a relieved exhale when I see their car lights pull into the driveway. That I’m even looking for car lights should be the first clue that I’m not as cool with this as I pretend to be.
Two-thirds of the kids in my house now drive, and while I am a little more relaxed about it (accent on “little”), calls beginning with, “Mom, there’s been an accident” send me right back to newbie-driver mom status.
McDonald’s is less than a mile from our house. It didn’t take me long to get there (not getting out of one’s jammies is a time-saving step.) I couldn’t help thinking back to the first time this same daughter, same car, had been in an accident.
It was a few years ago. She’d had her driver’s license for less than a month when she drove a group of four to their fancy downtown prom and casual after-prom at school. I slept on the couch so I could know for certain when she came back, and I know for certain because I woke up every hour to check the time.
5:00 AM: Car lights followed by a scream followed by a panicky knock at the door.
“I hit something!”
She broke down in heavy sobs as we surveyed the damage and went back to school trying to find the car she hit as she pulled out of a parking spot. She had gotten out when it happened, but missed seeing the damage in the dark and had driven home.
The bumper fell off when she drove into our driveway.
We can teach kids theory all we want, what to do in an accident, what not to do ... but, unfortunately, experience is a much better teacher.
The daughter I met near the Golden Arches that morning wasn’t at all like the panicked one from her first accident. She was calm as she pointed to the damage from an 18-wheeler making a sharp turn. Bud, a thoughtful witness with daughters of his own, was parked next to her.
“Did you call the police yet?”
“No, I called you and work.”
“Remember when your dad didn’t file a police report after he got hit in a parking lot by a woman who admitted full blame then changed her mind? That was an expensive lesson.”
Cue the flash of realization.
We really aren’t different from our kids. Sure, we know more because we’ve lived more, but we’re all still learning important life lessons from the greatest teacher — experience.