Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I was seconds away from an accident this weekend.

Not mine, someone else's. One of the main highways in our town is under construction. A new bridge is half-built, and there's a fairly sharp curve in the road where two lanes of traffic get squeezed together and are moved over two lanes in a rather short space. The posted speed limit's 40. Most folks take it considerably faster than that.

Including me.

Late Saturday afternoon, I'm in the van with my kids, STBEW, and the guy who I thought was my ex-wife's ex-boyfriend but apparently is once again her current boyfriend,* ** and a trunkfull of frozen foods. As I came up to the construction area, there were three cars in front of me. Two were stopping. One was on its roof, spinning slowly.

The first responders were there within minutes. There was only the driver in the car, and although they put him on the backboard and took him off to the Emergency Department, I'm guessing he's pretty much ok. He had his seatbelt on, and climbed out of his car unaided before anyone could get to him.

While we were waiting for the police/fire/ambulance folks, we got the guy to sit down off to the side and wait. He told us what happened.

"I blew out a tire earlier today," he said. The 'thirty miler,' the undersized spare tire cars carry, was on the left rear wheel. "There was a wasp in the car. It landed on my arm." He waved his hands in despair. "I only looked down for a second..."

Yup. That's all it takes. His car wasn't handling well because of the small tire. He was probably going a bit too fast, and he looked down for just a second. We could see where his car struck the concrete barrier on the right side of the lanes, caromed off the barrier on the left, and flipped him up and over.

We heard a fire fighter on his radio: "A run-of-the-mill rollover."

Not to this guy it wasn't. To him, his life sucked ass just then. What a horrible Saturday he must have thought he was having. Blew a tire, then flipped a car, a trip to the ED, probably at least a speeding ticket, car repairs, insurance hassles, all of that was on his plate.

I sat there looking at what happened, and at the river just a few hundred feet away (and about fifty feet down), at the two lanes of traffic coming the other way, the growing lines of traffic behind us, and thought 'this is the luckiest man on the face of the earth.'

But because he was distracted, just for that one second, things got out of hand, and now he's got a lot of unpleasant stuff to deal with.

And that's all it takes. Just a momentary lapse.

Sometimes we get away with it. Most times we do. I once rode with a woman who drove eighty miles an hour while negotiating a deal for her honeymoon on her mobile phone, who reached into the back seat to grab her notebook and started taking notes. While driving. At 80 mph. On a surface road. She got away with it.

We get away with a lot. And that's not always a good thing. Sometimes it takes a rollover to get you back to reality.

I'm not just talking about driving here. I had a rollover of my own this week with my kids. Specifically, my 10-year-old son.

I grew up with a temper. A fierce one. Ever heard the expression 'seeing red' do describe anger? That was me. I can get so angry that I do see red.

It is the worst, worst, worst feeling in my life.

I have, through a lot of hard work, gotten myself to a place where I don't act out on the anger I sometimes feel. I'm able to get angry, but not act inappropriately. In other words, I've been able to not see red, express my anger without yelling or getting physical, and move forward with my life.

It's getting easier to do this, but it's still not easy. It takes awareness on my part.

Thursday morning, my son was moving a bit ahead of schedule, and my daughter (who's 8) was running a bit behind, for reasons beyond her control. I asked my son to help by packing his sister's lunch for her. He responded by getting her lunch bag out of her backpack, and dropping it into her cereal bowl.

Boom. Red. My son has a blind spot the exact size and shape of his sister. He criticizes her constantly, and casually makes her life hard in so many ways. This is his biggest failing, and he's lost a lot of privileges because of this behavior. I usually deal with it appropriately, but not this time. I screamed. He cried.

Good morning.

So what do I do? What can I do? I get myself under control. I talk to him. I tell him that what he did was wrong, but it in no way changes the fact that what I did was wrong, too.

And I resume my life.

The episode was bad, but it turns out it was just the flat tire.

Because on Saturday morning...

He didn't want to do chores. He made it clear. He knew exactly which buttons to push with me, and he did it perfectly. I saw red. I yelled.

I spanked.

I laid my hands on my son. I struck him. I was furious. I screamed some more. I sent him to his room, yelling at him all the way.

Right past my daughter, standing, paralyzed with fear, in the kitchen.

The worst, worst, worst feeling in my life.

It was my rollover.

And that's what I was thinking as I watched the firefighters at their jobs.

I screwed up. I screwed up bigtime. I've made my job as a parent that much harder. But it's not the end of the world. There's some damage. I need to repair it. And I will, in time. AndI'll learn from this, and slow down, and pay attention. To them, their needs, and to myself.

I had a rollover this weekend.

I'm the luckiest guy in the world.


*I was just about to go to the grocery store when I get a call from the store. STBEW was there shopping, and wanted to know if I could give her a ride home. I said sure. When I show up, she's with her current previous ex.
**I don't like him. Not because he's dating my ex-wife, and not because he views me as competition. I'm not. I don't like him because he's the sort of guy who won't admit that he views me as competition, even though he clearly does. As long as it doesn't adversely affect my kids in some tangible way, I really don't care what--or who--my ex does.

PS: It's Talk like a Pirate day. Go ahead--you know you want to.


Blogger cadbury_vw said...

ahoy matey,

the swabbies sometimes need to know that they can't push just completely too hard

if you've been scraping barnacles all day, or get up on the wrong side o'the bunk in the morning, they need to know that they have to control themselves too.


matey, you did the right thing. you told them how you shouldn't have behaved that way - but if they don't like it, too bad. maybe next time he'll think twice about the lunchbag crap.


at least that's how i rationalise it to myself when i have one of those monring stack blows (maybe once every two months)


ye can't make yerself walk the plank every time

they are fully independent little sailors, even if they do need direction. they need t'make ther own decisions too. a couple of these are valuable life lessons - if they were to try it when they get older, someone else in school or wherever might just knock their block off


2:27 AM  
Blogger mal said...

arrrrrrhhhh...wantin' us to be talkin' like a pirate would'ja now?

We have seldom physically disciplined our kids and I think we both felt as bad about it as they did.

I was on my first ride along with one of my salesman (a transfer, not a hire). We were on the interstate doing 15 over,(company no-no), he answers his cell phone (another no-no) and then starts taking notes. I told him to call the customer back and proceeded to "correct" him. He never did it again, in my presence anyway.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

A short walk and a sudden stop!

(Did you know that the whole plank walking thing was invented by James Barrie?)

(Bloody brilliant today, mate.)

10:09 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

well shiver me timbers matey
nothing like staring davey jones in the face and living to tell about it

and ta celebrate our good fortune...
there be rum and wenches for all

ok, i suck at this. but i'm glad you are ok

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, i'm not even gonna try the pirate talking thing...

i just wanted to say we all make mistakes. all we can do is learn from them.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Åsa said...

Balloon Pirate: I live in a country that in the early 80ies (or something) made spanking your kids illegal. After my 20 months as an Au-Pair for four CA boys, I can not understand how Swedish parents do it. (I don’t have children of my own).

Yelling at your kids until they cry is probably necessarily from time to time. They look to you to find out what’s right and wrong, and you told your son. And as for the spanking: even parents are allowed to slip. Actually, even if you where the “perfect parent” your children would still have to “rebel” and question everything about you. Even the best intentions from parents can lead to many hours on a psychotherapy couch. So what I’m trying to say is that maybe you needed this rollover to be more aware and no harm is done anyway. You love your children and they know it. Your son will remember this incident and probably think that he was such a brat at the time.

Don’t worry about what you did: it filled a purpose for you.

The one thing I gathered from healthy upbringings I have been in contact with is that to treat kids like adults, but only expect them to be children. But from what I’ve read of you before: you already knew this

7:09 AM  

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