Today I made a mistake that could have cost my son his life.
You know we all look at those parents who forget their kid in the car due to a change in routine or stop watching them for 5 minutes near a body of water, or make some other fatal error in judgment, and we think “Dummies. Assholes. I would never be that stupid.”
And maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe your version of stupid is different from theirs. But the fact is that we all have those lapses in judgment. We all have those moments of stupid. We all make those decisions in the heat of just the right or wrong moment that in hindsight appear absolutely idiotic, even insane.
We were running late. My oldest is sick and I was taking care of her. We left the house 5 minutes too late. When we got to the school we had 4 minutes before school started. The parking lot, where I normally drop my 9-year-old off, was closed to make room for busses for a big field trip. I couldn’t see where to drop my boy. The parking parent suggested I drive down the street, turn around and wait in the 20-car-line coming the other direction, on the side of the school.
This bothered me. It would make my boy 15 minutes late instead of 2.
And his student report said he was tardy too much.
And I’m trying so damn hard to get him there on time, to do my part for his education. He’s dyslexic. He already has a hard enough time.
So I decided I would let him off on the side of the road and he could cross in the crosswalk. I pulled over to the right but there wasn’t anywhere to park fully. The tail end of my big Expedition was sticking out in the road.
I glanced in the side view mirror. I didn’t see a car. I told him “Okay Rocket, go ahead.”
He opened the door and we immediately heard the slam of buckling metal. Some dude in a Prius was late for a meeting and decided to scream by on our left. He clipped door as it was opening, buckled part of it, and ripped the side-view mirror off his car.
If it were 10 seconds later, he would have hit my son. At his speed, I doubt my boy would have survived.
I wanted to make it this man’s fault. Why wouldn’t you be more careful in a student drop-off zone? Why wouldn’t you watch, go slowly? The fucker didn’t even apologize. The dickwad didn’t even say a word. He said “There’s always so many kids around here!”
Um yeah genius, it’s a school. Kids tend to be near schools.
But the fact is I did something profoundly stupid. I was rushed. I was worried what the teacher would think. I don’t want to be that asshole parent who wants the school to work their asses off for her kid but isn’t even able to get her kid to school on time. I was irritated the parking lot was closed. I was not thinking of the safety of my boy first. I was thinking of getting to school on time.
On the way home, it hit me fully what could have happened. I saw in my mind, his little body crushed by a car. I felt myself throw my body out the car to hold him. The horror, agony, guilt. The way I would have replayed that morning in my mind, the moments leading up to it. The perfect shitstorm of circumstances leading to that critical second.
Whether or not he would have lived, he would have been terribly hurt, and it would have been my fault. I knew better.
He basically got out of the car in the street. AND I TOLD HIM TO.
It took my breath. I threw my hand over my mouth as I drove. I felt sick, like I could vomit. My eyes filled with tears. I shook my head, literally, to get the image out of my brain of his body and that metal.
I said in my last blog post that I didn’t become some better version of myself, some perfect model of human just because a baby exited my body. This is the single most difficult fact of parenthood for me, and the thing that fucks with me the most. I NEED TO BE A BETTER PERSON BUT I’M NOT, not always.
That goddamn human fallibility. My impatience. My lack of perfect judgment. My assumptions. My irritability.
And his innocence, his eyes looking to me for guidance, the unquestioning gesture of opening the car door because I said so. Just a little kid listening to his mother before school. I had no idea what was about to come. I had no idea what I was sending my son into.
I see right now in my mind’s eye his bouncing blond head as it crossed the street and walked to class. His little lunch box. His lack of backpack because he left it at grandma’s house. His tie-dyed t-shirt and tennis shoes.
The truth is I can handle my personality flaws, the things that make me not that great. We don’t need to be that great. But I don’t understand how we’re supposed to make peace with the fact that one error in judgment could result in a tragedy altering the course of so many lives. Well, I guess that’s the way with anybody, with any mistake, but it just seems wrong when it comes to children. It seems wrong that we are placed in the position to protect and care for these tiny beings that trust and love us completely, without question, and yet we aren’t given perfect judgment. We aren’t given 100% reliable insight. We are fucked-up humans who sometimes make decisions based on things that don’t matter, because the stars are aligned, or misaligned, or whatever.
It doesn’t seem right that my mind would scatter like that, fall apart like that, when I know the only important thing is my son’s safety. I’m generally the most defensive driver on the planet. I assume most people smoke crack before getting behind the wheel and plot my death as a pastime.
But today I made a mistake.
It isn’t one I’ll make again. But what other mistakes may come?
In 20 minutes I’ll leave to pick him up. I can’t wait to get him with me. I want to tell him “I’m sorry.” But it doesn’t seem worth it. How do you apologize for your humanity? How do you apologize for putting him a person in danger without knowing it? For being a fucking moron? I spent the day half-shaking at my stupidity. I want to fold him up under me again. I want to kiss his head 14,000 times.
Tonight is his dad’s 33rd birthday. We’re making him shrimp Louie. Rocket will want to help. He loves to cook. He loves salad, cutting toppings. We’ll cut tomato and avocado and egg.
We’ll make a cake.
I’ll tell him to be careful with the knives. I’ll watch carefully, so carefully, his tiny fingers and arms. His freckles and lips and giant trusting blue eyes. He’ll ask me what to do next. I’ll tell him. I know just what to do. I’ll be his mother one more day.
I’ll be his mother one more day.
And try to be better tomorrow.