The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
Little Max and Sam are a bit of a challenge. Now, I know boys will be boys, but our sweet angels have been known to push the envelope and our biggest challenge is to figure out which household items can be easily converted to weapons.
I’m not talking obvious – sure knives and scissors are considered dangerous by some. But it’s the every-day candle or can of soup that can throw a parent off. Did you realize that a dismantled Lego, when thrown with the right velocity and at the perfect angle, can take out a tooth? Who knew?
Who’s the Boss?
But Craig and I are responsible parents and after a long debate with Max, and to his bitter disappointment, we have decided firearms are off-limits, though the jury’s still out on explosives. I’m not saying that giving a shot-gun to an angry nine year-old with a vendetta is a bad choice, it’s just our choice.
Besides, who needs weapons when good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat can be just as effective? And the bonus is it can be done anywhere. My little guys love to fight at parties, at weddings, on the bus (a favorite), at concerts and movies – really, in just about any public venue you can think of (I think it’s the excitement of having a captive audience). Why, just the other day I broke up an all-out brawl in the meat department at Costco. And I only became involved when the manager had the nerve to ask us to leave.
The best thing about the physical abusive Max and Sam inflict on each other is the colorful language that accompanies the beatings. For an eight and nine year-old, I’ll admit that they have a fairly sophisticated vocabulary.
Though it’s kind of funny, and I don’t know how they got it mixed up, but both my boys are under the impression that the phrase is “damn-god” not the other way around (as in “I’m going to knock his damn-god head off”). How cute is that?
Now Max is my strategic planner. Even when he was two, he knew exactly when to push his just-walking one year-old brother down the steps. He picked on Sam brutally until we showed Sam how effective biting can be. That seemed to even the playing board a bit.
It’s hard to squelch Sam’s fierce determination to retaliate after an unfair business practice by his brother. I’m totally astonished at how long he can sit-in-wait for the perfect opportunity to kick Max in the groin. I have seen him hold out for days before he finds just the right moment. You have to admit it’s a virtue, that kind of patience.
Weapons training for children – are they ever too young?
Sam is considered by some, an expert in managing the staff, or spear as we sometimes refer to it. Our “Sweetie-peetie-pumpkin-pie-Sammer” (my pet name!) is becoming so adept at handling this unique weapon, I’m thinking he could be a contender for the javelin in the 2016 Olympics. Last week I found him working diligently to remove the handle base from my house broom.
“There!” he cried as he stood and began twirling. That five-foot broom handle was turning so fast it was making my head spin.
“Light the ends on fire,” he shouted.
“That seems awfully dangerous,” I yelled back through the wind tunnel. “Can’t we just tape some knives on the end?”
“I want the fire!” he screamed, tossing the stick high into the air. It landed on the roof, between the rake and Craig’s new putter.
We try not to get involved as we have been advised by the “kid whisperer” that it’s best if children learn to negotiate and solve their own problems without the aid of an adult. This strategy does tend to throw people off as it can appear that the parent is ignoring the children’s bickering. This was definitely the case last summer when my good friend, Stacie, came to visit and we took the boys to the beach.
All was going well until Max looked at Sam and smiled. Apparently it was the “ha ha” smile and Sam wasn’t having any. I paid no attention to the threats of drowning or even the slaps that turned to punches. I turned a blind eye to the handfuls of sand that blew our way and only when a rock almost hit Stacie, did I step in and advise her to move her chair.
Of course, I explained our strategy and the theory behind it.
“How’s that working out for you?” she asked, in somewhat of a snotty tone (I thought). But she doesn’t have children so she hasn’t a clue as to what she’s talking about.
Good help is hard to find
It has been difficult to hold on to sitters. There has been more than one teenager that has gone home in tears and never returned. We’re lucky that our current adult sitter, Maria, is an admitted masochist and enjoys the “suffering” the boys impose on her. Though, she was a teensy upset when they locked her in the basement for an hour when they were just three and four. Of course, now it’s a favorite story and almost always gets a laugh at social gatherings. And, Maria’s eye tick has finally disappeared so it’s a win- win for everyone.
I know what you’re thinking and believe me, I feel the same way. . . it’s pretty obvious that the boys get their temperament from my husband and his side of the family. He has admitted as much to me in our family therapy sessions. Craig grew up the oldest of three boys, all two years apart, and there was more than one wall in their house that took an undeserved punch.
But those were the days when children didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the adults that could spank them. We don’t believe in corporal punishment (before nine in the morning), so we are forced to be much more creative. Bribing and begging almost always seem to do the trick.