Sam wrecked our Tahoe Friday night. He had six of his friends in the car, and they were coming home from a high school football game in a neighboring town.
Thirty-one days ago, he totaled his own car.
Both accidents were his fault.
Receiving that late night phone call is heart-stopping. The first questions, of course, are a mad rush of breathless words, strung together with tension and anxiety: “Are you okay? Are they okay? Is everyone okay?”
There is a wave of fear and dread followed by anger and disbelief and a host of a million other emotions. When it happens twice within the course of a month, it feels like a cruel joke. When six teenagers who look more like men than boys climb into your one remaining car in the wee hours of the morning so you can deliver them safely back home to their expectant parents, the weight of what could have been is crushing.
No one was hurt. I am so grateful — so incredibly grateful — that there were no injuries. When we arrived at the tow lot and I saw the accordioned van he hit, I all but dropped to my knees in gratitude. He didn’t hurt himself; he didn’t hurt anyone else. There were no babies in the backseat of that van. No toddlers. No crushed carseats. No one else’s precious children were the casualties of my child’s momentary lapse of judgment.
I know there is always a situation that is worse. There is famine and disease and pain and suffering. We had a child who once teetered precariously on that fine line between life and death. We understand Worse.
But in the throes of such chaos, this situation feels bigger than we can carry. When our professor/writer salaries are stretched paper thin to meet the needs of our family of six, this feels so very heavy. It feels like a tunnel with no light at the end. It feels impossible.
What’s heaviest of all, though, is the inevitable string of disappointments. We are disappointed in the bad choice our oldest kid made. The one we told him was non-negotiable. The one that involved his phone and him behind the wheel. The one that we pounded into his head at least a million times: No phone while you’re driving. We feel it is a failure on our part that he still does not fully comprehend the consequences of his choices. Or at least that he didn’t understand them before Friday night. Perhaps today he feels differently. Perhaps not.
This kid is so very smart, and so often thoughtless. He thinks he’s invincible (maybe all teenagers do?), but we all know he’s only human. He’s blown through our lives in the past few months like a hurricane, oblivious to everything else in his path. He has left much in his wake: tears, financial upheaval, chaos. We have had to break promises we made to our other children because of the actions of one. Our checking account cannot support the weight of so many careless mistakes. Neither can his minimum wage, part-time grocery bagger income. There is simply not enough to go around.
We’ll dig our way out. We always do. But it will be a long, deep dig. And there will be many changes that result, for all of us. The actions of one affect so many others.
We will go back again and again to the lessons we’ve tried so desperately to teach our children… Make good decisions. Do not put yourselves or anyone else at risk. It only takes one bad decision to dramatically change the trajectory of your life… or to end it.
Here’s what brought a little light to yesterday’s darkness: friends who said…
“Okay, call me. Time for you to stop crying and start talking.”
“I love you.”
“Read, sleep, have a glass of wine, be good to yourself today.”
“You’re a good Mom, he’s a good kid. Good kids make bad decisions.”
“I’m here. What can I do for you?”
There was nothing, really, that anyone could do for us today but this: show up. Thank you a million times over to those who did. Thank you to each of you who chose to say, “I’m here. I love you. Hang on.” Thank you for letting us be sad, for letting us weep over what was lost — not the vehicles, but our trust, our security, our faith in our son’s ability to choose what is right over what is convenient.
I’ve watched and listened to this Brene Brown message a million times, but I’ve never felt it more strongly than I did yesterday:
I experienced — from near and far — your warm embrace. Thank you for loving our kid. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for showing up across the miles.
In a world turned temporarily upside down, it matters.
Katrina…I hear you. I feel you. I am with you. <3
Thank you, Logan. Love you. <3
I am sorry, I know the feelings all too well Having teenagers are like riding a roller coaster, hang on tight and turn them over to God.
Amazing post, Katrina. My favorite quote is, “This kid is so very smart, and so often thoughtless.” How many of us are this so many times or have a husband, mother in law, sister, brother, or friend who is this at times. Love you, friend. Love your honesty, love your willingness to be broken and rebuild again. And I especially love your fondness for wine. 😉 Hugs.
Just be glad your son is still with you. My friend was killed a few weeks ago and it must be absolutely unbearable for his family. #11inHeaven
It’s so good to know they were not injured. Thank you for writing authentically and with such vulnerability. This is real life. Anger, disappointment, and sadness are part of it. You remind us that life takes work, and family matters. Love trumps it all.
Sorry to hear– and good luck with the next steps. Some lessons for your son, I imagine.
Thanks for sharing this very emotional story. Thanks for being so honest and sharing all your thoughts and emotions. We have a so, Nelson, who is nearly 15 now and here in Australia you don’t get your licence until 18. But he will get a learners permit at 16 and we are not that far away from the area you are now navigating. Clearly it is so very fortunate that in this case nobody was hurt. But it is exactly that: just plain good luck. I hope that Sam has learned a very valuable lesson, and I will share this story with my kids too. Lessons for everyone!!
Thanks Katrina. Thinking of y’all and please come and visit us some time!! Or you could always send a kid or two over for a down under experience! Cheers Kevin
Oh Katrina. As a mom of two daughters and a stepmom of 3 sons, all grown now, please know that we have been there and I can feel the pain and frustration in every word. I remember waking up on those terrible “after” mornings and struggling to find the right words, the appropriate response as my brain tried to wrap itself around the practical aspects of our legal responsibilities, insurance increases, deductibles and everything else that seems to stop your normal life in its tracks. Yes, you are grateful and but the fact remains that the disappointment and collateral damage is real and it’s life altering and you can’t be expected to minimize how traumatic it is for everyone involved – including your son. But eventually it will become another chapter in your family folklore, life goes on and this is why parenting teenagers is so damned hard. And not ALL of my 5 were terrible drivers, lol! Just 2 gave me wrinkles before my time and I’ve never let them forget it, ha!
Such a terrifying, and yes… challenging (on so many levels) situation and experience, Katrina. I’m so sorry your family is going through this. My oldest son presented so many challenges, along the way. I really understand those moments when it’s hard to know just how to feel, what to say or do. Thanks for sharing this vulnerable time, so beautifully.
Thank you for your honesty and for sharing this gut-wrenching story. I am calling my 23 year-old daughter this evening to “one more time” reiterate not using her phone while driving. I don’t know if I’ll make a difference either, Katrina, but I have to keep pounding the message. There is too much at stake. Wrapping you in a warm, soft blanket of comfort as you weather this storm. Hugs to you, friend.
There but for the Grace of God … as a father of three boys (not that girls can’t make bad driving decisions), we have been fortunate despite lead foots (feet?), one snowy night fender bender, and one close encounter with an unfortunate deer, we have avoided the major accident (knock on wood).
As you mentioned, it only takes one nanosecond’s poor choice …
And I was upset about an $800 insurance bump. If your son is a good and smart kid, this has to make a difference. There are too many much, much more tragic stories out there.
Hope it all works out …
Wow. I cannot even imagine what it is like to feel so powerless over the actions of a human being that you created and love more than life itself. Think positive thoughts…you’ve done the hard hard work of raising your boy right…it’s up to him now. And thanks for sharing the wonderful Brene Brown video!