With their cell phones as extensions of their hands, my kids expect I will be available at all times, under any circumstances. They text and call until I respond. It drives me batty.
Are you there?
Most times, these super urgent texts are to inform me they need Chick-fil-a for dinner, or practice is running late, or they want to know where I am at 5:02 when I was supposed to pick them up at 5:00. I’ll admit, depending on my mood, sometimes I don’t text back immediately, or their call comes in and I hit the auto-responder: In a meeting. What’s up?
They have to learn to wait, right?
Last week, my husband and I really were in a meeting. As it ended, the caller ID flashed on my phone. It was my daughter Cali. Can’t she wait? I thought. She knows I’m in an appointment. I hit the auto-responder, reasoning I’d call her back as soon as we got into the car. Then the texts started:
Cali: It’s important.
Me: 5 minutes.
Cali: No mom, it’s really important.
The phone rang again and my gut told me to answer it.
My daughter, with a nervous laugh, said, “A car hit my bike on State Hill Road. Kate and I were going to the park—”
My heart slammed against my chest and my breath caught in my throat, but my brain instantaneously sorted two key facts: 1) she had the wherewithal to speak so 2) she couldn’t be too hurt.
“I’m okay . . .” she said again. “But the bike . . .”
My husband tore the phone from my hand. “What were you doing on State Hill Road?” he roared. Then, “We’re coming.”
We flew out of the appointment, both of us distraught and equally pissed she had her bike on the busy, no-shoulder road that abuts our neighborhood. Nevertheless, we were calm because it sounded like everything was okay. Still, I called her back in the car.
“I’m fine, Mom. We’re at the park.”
“Wait till we get there. Do not go near State Hill Road again.” We raced ten minutes across town and when we finally turned onto State Hill Road, my gut clenched. There was an ambulance, a police car, a small crowd of people, our son, and Cali’s mangled bicycle, but no Cali.
In an instant, I understood the woman who falls to her knees, her arms reaching to the sky, begging for grace, mercy, and pardon—bargaining with her own life for the safety of her child. The fear is physical, the adrenaline exploding through your body, shooting into every particle of your being.
I had to see my daughter. I climbed into the ambulance.
Cali smiled, and again laughed with a nervous edge. “I’m fine, Mom.”
“She’s okay,” the very serious EMT said, shaking his head as he bandaged her ankle. “This could have been bad. She’s a lucky girl.”
The tears welled in my eyes, the relief overwhelming.
The young police officer was shaken too. “When I got the call, I was afraid of what I’d find.”
“It’s not funny,” the officer said.
Cali and her friend Kate had decided to take an after-dinner bike ride in the park. They’re responsible, conscientious young women, both high school freshmen. They know to look both ways and to exercise extreme caution when crossing State Hill Road by pushing their bikes rather than riding them. They’re not risk-takers. Still, even careful kids make mistakes. Cali says she didn’t see the car coming. Kate, who paused at the side of the road, did.
“Stop!” Kate screamed.
Cali pivoted. The car sideswiped the bike, with Cali one step away from calamity.
All night long, I was jarred awake with images of what if?
What if Cali had been by herself?
What if she’d been riding, instead of pushing her bike?
What if she had ignored Kate?
What if? What if?
The answer was shattering. Life-altering. One from which none of us ever would have recovered. A mom a couple towns over, a woman I know in passing, buried her son this past spring after a car accident. It’s unfair. Indecent. Horrific. I know only a fraction of the weight and pain she carries now. My empathy is no comfort, but it’s all I have.
That night my seventeen-year-old son piled Cali’s broken bike into the rear of his fifteen-year-old pick-up truck. When Cali slid into the backseat of our Nissan Pathfinder with only an Ace bandage around her bruised calf, she broke down.
“I know it wasn’t funny.” She heaved. “I was too scared, so I tried to laugh. I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone.”
Later in the quiet of my daughter’s bedroom, I hugged her. The warmth of her body and the heat of her breath reminded me that, yes, we were so lucky. Each day is special. Thank God! We dodged another bomb hidden in the minefield of life.
The twisted bike lay in our driveway for twenty-four hours before I told my husband he had to get rid of it for I would never sleep again.
We’re done with bikes. State Hill Road is forever off limits.
It was a lesson learned for Cali. Accidents happen—in a blink of an eye. The most we can do is to be good to each other, to love one another, to watch out for our friends, to be the person who yells, “Stop,” or, maybe, as the girls find themselves in questionable high school situations, to be the voice that whispers quietly, “Don’t do that.”
I answer my kids’ texts more quickly now.
*This piece was originally published on heatherchristiebooks.com