The minivan kiss

My coffee is already cold, but I want a sip anyway. I’ve earned it after running around for the last few hours getting everything ready for the day.

I feel carefully for my Chewbacca coffee mug with my right hand, fully aware at how many times it has ended up on the van carpet or in my lap. No. Not today. This shirt is far too white and I need the caffeine.

I look down.

Thump.

“Did we just hit that car?” my girl says from the back.

“Shit,” I reply.

“Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.”

The van in front of me, the one whose bumper I’m snug against now, turns on the right blinker.

“Shit,” I say again.

“What’s going to happen?” my boy asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

Then I roll off a few more “shits” and he goes quiet.

Everyone is watching me. I’m sure they are screaming at me as I hang my head in shame.

“You idiot!”

It was just a mistake.

“Get off your phone!”

I wasn’t on it. It was just a mistake.

“You don’t deserve to drive!”

It was just a mistake.

The light turns green and I follow the brown van into the parking lot of a mortgage company. I am shaking now. I’m going to be late. The driver is going to yell at me. My insurance is going to go up.

Shit.

“Sit still,” I tell the kids. “I’ll be right back.”

The driver is another mom, clearly dressed for morning carpool with pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. There is a little girl in the backseat and a small Chihuahua. She waves to me and the dog licks the window.

We meet at her bumper and stare together for a moment.

“I see nothing, let’s check your car,” she says with a smile.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

We walk to the front of my van and the license plate is a little wonky, but it is fine. This could have been so much worse. I start to apologize again and she cuts me off.

“I say we just forget all about it.”

She smiles.

“I really am sorry. Is your daughter OK? Was she scared?”

“She is fine. Everything is fine,” she says. “Really. Don’t worry about it. It was just a little accident. It is OK.”

She fixes me with a motherly look of forgiveness and I tear up.

I hug her.

She hugs back.

“Thank you,” I say.

“You have a great day,” she says and walks away.

“You too,” I say after she is already out of earshot.

She gives me a final smile and wave before driving off. The little girl in the backseat is waving to my kids and the dog is still licking the window.

I hop back in the car and take a deep breath to stop my hands from shaking.

“Everything is going to be OK,” I tell the kids.

“They were nice,” my girl says.

Yes they were.

Advertisements

What to do when your tires hit the dirt

I should have known.

Most people would have figured it out in about 10 seconds, or certainly after a few minutes.

Not me.

I don’t like to brag, but sometimes I can be completely and utterly committed to making a big mistake.

It’s not that I seek out these little life lessons for myself. It’s more like I just ignore all signs of warning and logic and just keep plugging ahead.

It’s dedicated stupidity of the most spectacular sort.

Yesterday was a brilliant example.

I needed to make a road trip to Topaz to pick up my darling summer daughter from her visit with grandma. The kids stayed home with daddy and I had the car blissfully to myself.

I plugged the destination into the maps app on my iPhone, followed the prompts and indulged in a mini-marathon of my favorite podcast, NPR’s Snap Judgment.

For about 3 hours I listened to stories of lost loves reuniting, people overcoming fear and families reunited after centuries apart.

Then my tires hit a dirt road.

road

Uh oh. This can’t be right.

I stopped, turned off the podcast and looked around.

The road was very rocky, dusty and quite deserted.

This is wrong.

I looked at my phone and it showed me driving 5 miles and then turning right. I was only 30 minutes from my destination.

So on I drove.

Windows and sunroof open, I put all doubt aside and focused on enjoying the ride.

After a few minutes I found this:

mine

I pulled over and read all about the Golden Gate Mine. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Look at me. Being all carefree and adventurous.

Then I came to a little stream that I had to cross.

creek

Then the road got really steep and my tires were having trouble keeping up with the demands of the trail.

Still I had seen no cars. The only house I’d come across was abandoned and falling apart.

Fear started creeping in and I kept saying to myself, “this can’t be right.”

But I was committed to this route. I couldn’t make a U-turn, because then I’d have to drive all that again.

No going back

The road became gravel for a bit and my turn was only .5 miles away. Way to go Bridgette! You made it.

“Turn right.”

I looked all around. No turns.

No other roads or paths or anything. Just the same rocky dirt road leading further up the mountain.

Then I lost cell reception.

Now I was scared.

I got out of the car and just stood there.

“What do I do?” I said aloud.

I’m lost and all alone. Tears started in my eyes and I felt a rising panic in my gut.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.

Should I turn around or just keep going? What if the road gets worse and I blow a tire? What if it goes on for so long I run out of gas? What if I lose traction and skid down the hill and crash? I have no food, no water and it’s hot out.

The smart choice was to turn around and head back to the main road.

But that wasn’t fun and I just had to see this through. I’d come too far to turn around.

Dedicated stupidity at it’s finest.

I got back in the car and continued the climb.

Over another stream. Around and around and up and up. I knew I was going to be late now, but I had to see where this went. I kept thinking, the next turn it will become a paved road again.

Nope.

After another 10 minutes of driving I reached the top of the hill. This is what I saw:

mountaintop

I got out of the car and the air was filled with the most gorgeous smell of pine. A breeze blew through my hair and I actually laughed.

Groups of people on horseback were just disappearing into the woods. I walked over to a woman in jeans and a t-shirt that had a surprised look on her face.

“I’m lost,” I told her and realized how funny I must look in my mommy SUV and flip-flops.

“You sure are,” she replied with a little laugh.

She had a beautiful smile and she gave me a big hug.

“You’ve reached Little Antelope Pack Station,” she said. “Welcome.”

sign

She told me about a summer camp they were running for underprivileged kids. The kids get to ride horses, shoot BB guns and learn about nature.

“Want to ride a horse?” she offered. “Something brought you here.”

I used to ride horses all the time and I yearned to take her up on it. The thought actually brought tears to my eyes.

But people were waiting for me.

I have to be responsible.

She told me that I’d have to drive all the way back to the bottom.

No other way out.

I took a few pictures and hugged her goodbye.

“Come back when you have more time,” she said and waved to me as I pulled away.

The drive down the hill was easy and fast.

As I passed all the markers from before, I could remember all the emotions I felt at each spot; fear, excitement, doubt, joy, disappointment and happiness.

Now it all seemed so silly, pointless and wasteful.

I’m very lucky. All that came of my little escapade was a very dirty car and a flat tire (that happened a few hours later).

Things could have been so much worse.

I am tired of moving blindly and innocently forward without questioning things or listening to my instincts.

I’m so stubborn and my craving for adventure and excitement is ridiculous.

It is causing turmoil, pain and regret.

While the beauty I experienced yesterday is something I will always treasure, hopefully this will be a lesson learned.

I am a mother. People are counting on me.

Diversions can be dangerous.

Sometimes a ride in the car turns into this

When we pulled off the freeway I saw him. He was dressed in a long, brown jacket that reached to his ankles. His grey hair and beard were wet with rain. His sign read, “Hungry. Anything helps. God bless.”

I never carry cash, but sometimes I have extra food. I had nothing. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled at him. He returned the smile and then his eyes drifted to the backseat.

His look changed to something I couldn’t quite read.

He seemed to shrink and he took a step back.

The light turned green.

He didn’t make eye contact again and I drove off.

For the next few minutes I was lost in thought about this man. Imagined stories swirled around my head and I tried hard not to cry. Thoughts of a family lost fought with images of addiction and mental illness. A human cast aside, either by free will or by circumstance, is something that makes me profoundly sad.

“I bet he knows a lot more than us,” my son says from the back of the car.

“What?” I ask a little startled.

“Did you see that guy with the long jacket?” he asks.

“I did,” his sister says. “Did you see him mom? He was looking at us?”

“Yes,” I say.

“I think he is a wise man,” my boy continues. “He probably sees so much being on the side of the road. We are in our car or house, while he is out in the world seeing stuff.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I think I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he says.

Please don’t say homeless man, I silently pray.

“I want to sew myself a tunic and then travel all over the world,” he says. “I will find someone to train me in sword fighting. I will help people.”

“Like a knight?” his sister asks.

“Yes, but in real life,” he says. “I don’t know how I will do it, but someone needs to.”

I could have given him a lecture about how ridiculous that plan is. A modern day knight that roams the world fighting bad guys with a sword. It’s absurd.

But I didn’t.

I just let the words hang in the air. I let him imagine himself a force for good in the world.

The rest of the drive was filled with ideas on how that might work. He came up with problems that he might encounter and how he might get around them.

“It won’t be easy,” he said finally. “But nothing is. You have to work hard if you want something.”

Those words made my mommy heart swell with pride.

Those are MY words repeated back, but in a way that makes me think he might be getting it.

Being a parent is complex and I am often overwhelmed and lost.  When I have to tell my kids to turn off their bedroom light or flush the toilet for the 1 billionth time, I think I might lose it. But that stuff doesn’t really matter.

What matters are conversations in the car, wanting to defend people and seeing the good in a homeless man out the window.

That’s the stuff that matters.

And my boy gets it.

Just a glimpse out the car window

He was sitting on the top step of the porch. He had no shirt on and his tan skin stood out in contrast to the stark white house. His jeans were dirty and he held a cigarette in one hand. His arms were crossed and he was leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His blonde hair was sticking up in spots. His bare feet were on the step below him.

The light turned green and I stepped on the gas pedal. I took one last look at him and he lifted his face. Our eyes locked. It was just a second. Just one breath. I could feel tears in my eyes and I suddenly found it hard to breathe. The intensity and sadness of those blue eyes. The pain. The distress. I fought the urge to turn around and go to him.

“Mommy,” my girl said from the backseat.

“What?” I said swallowing hard and trying to concentrate on driving. Just a few more blocks and we would be to school.

“Did you see that man?” she said.

It was then that I looked back at her in the rearview mirror. She was clutching Panda, her protector bear, very tight. Her knees were drawn up and her eyes were wide.

“I did,” I replied trying to sound calm.

“That was so sad,” she said. I could hear the tears threatening to come.

“What man?” my son chimed up cheerfully. He had a bag of his sisters hair bands on his lap and was busy making bracelets for his friends.

“The sad man with no shirt,” my girl answered. “I hope he will be OK.”

“He will,” I told her.

“Good,” she said loosening her grip on Panda. Her head slumped to the side of her car seat.

“I’m tired now,” she said and yawned.

“Me too,” I said and reached for my coffee cup.

“What man?” my son said again and strained his neck to try to look behind us. Of course we were several blocks away now and almost to school.

“He’s gone,” my daughter replied. “But he will be OK.”

The rest of the ride to school was silent. We parked on the street and walked brother to class. After saying our good-byes and giving kisses we walked back to the car. Her kindergarten is at another school a few minutes drive away.

“Why do you think that man was sad?” my daughter asked as I started to drive.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“I think someone died,” she said. “But it will be OK. That person is in heaven and he will see them again.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said.

“I love you mommy,” she said.

“I love you.”

We parked at her school and held hands as we walked to the play structure. She ran around happily showing Panda all the things she can do now.

Her teacher played the flute and she ran off. Panda and I both waved good-bye.

She is going to be OK.

I’m going to be OK.