When we arrived in Fort Worth, the first cracks of discomfort were starting to show. Jessica was becoming restless and was kicking the back of the driver’s seat where my husband diligently navigated through hordes of traffic. Our son had broken free from his several hour-long tablet trance and was now asking questions, like when we were going to arrive? We had driven almost 1000 miles in two days and understandably, we were ready for a relaxing evening without driving.
We were all impressed with our hotel which was chosen about a hundred miles earlier via my discount hotel app on my phone. I was congratulated by my husband as we entered our room for yet another success in random hotel selection. My winning streak of finding good hotels has carried over from last year when we made approximately the same trip.
It only took us a few minutes after unpacking the car to decide that we needed to go out to eat. Eating out is something we had avoided since we left Minnesota on Sunday morning. Thriftiness had come easy, until now. Our precious collective optimism was fading, and action needed to be taken. After a quick search for vegan friendly restaurants, I selected a restaurant called the “Mellow Mushroom”, primarily because I liked the name. We entertained the idea of walking since it was less than a mile away but decided that since we didn’t know the area, and we have children whose legs sometimes mysteriously stop working, it would be best if we drove.
The restaurant was easy to find, as it had big sign that depicted a mellow looking mushroom. My husband turned on the turn signal as we pulled up to the car park. I picked up my phone and saw I had a text from a friend. Then a CRACK ripped through the car as we were hit from behind, followed by another impact that was less thunderous. The first words out of both my husband and my mouth were “Is everyone ok?” As we looked anxiously over our two children safe in their car seats, who nodded yes. We were able to move out of traffic and park in the lot at the Mellow Mushroom.
My husband was cool, calm, and collected, quickly went to the two other crashed cars that had hit us and made sure everyone was ok. The car that had been sandwiched between our car and another had the air bag deploy. Luckily, no one was hurt. My husband then directed us to go eat at the Mellow Mushroom while he waited for the police.
It’s tough to know where children get some of their ideas. Often their world views are based off something their parents said, usually out of context. Or something they heard their friends say at school. As we entered the restaurant, fear pulsed through both my children as they became convinced that their dad was going to go to jail.
My three-year old lacked the words to describe her fears so while holding her hands behind her back, she asked if “daddy’s hands were going to be stuck behind his back?” as my six-year-old was now cycling in a loop of asking if “is dad going to jail?” I did my best to calm my children and to explain to the curious waitress and hostess that we had just been in a car accident, not that we were fleeing some terrible crime.
It wasn’t until later that I realized our children had seen firsthand the police station burnt to the ground during the George Floyd riots. Our daughter was still a baby, but she was there nevertheless. Despite our family having a good relationship with the police, our children had their eyes wide open to some of our world’s harsher realities.
The Mellow Mushroom employees were all very kind and were quick to share their own experiences of being hit by young drivers on that very road. Our waitress had been hit the week prior. As we waited for the food, my son curled up in the fetal position rocking said how scared he was, and my daughter was in full destruction mode, sticking everything she could find into the untouched water glasses on the table.
Calming my son and redirecting my daughter’s anxious energy was a task, but one I was well suited for. After twenty minutes or so, the shock of it all started to wane and we ate some good pizza. I searched for a rental car on my phone, only to discover that all the locations nearby were sold out. I settled my mind by telling myself that our insurance covers a rental car so certainly they have agreements with someone to make sure we can get a car. A theory that we have not been able to test yet.
My husband joined us and told us all the details. A young driver hit us who was then hit by a younger driver, causing her to hit us again. We’d leave it to the insurance company to decide who was at fault, but it seemed likely that it was not us as we were stopped with a turn signal on. I felt some gratitude at that moment that it was us that the young drivers hit and not someone else. My husband told me all about the youngest driver, presumably the one that caused the accident, he is seventeen, a senior in high school, and thinking about going to welding school. His first call was to his mom, who promptly came to the accident scene to help. There was no trace of anger or blame from my husband. Only compassion.
When I was seventeen years old, I had a beeper that had a vibrate setting, which was considered high tech at the time. One time I was at a stop light in the left turn lane, behind another car, and the beeper went off – on the vibrate setting – in my pocket. I didn’t know what it was and for some reason I decided the best way to respond was by slamming my foot down on the gas and barreling into the car in front of me.
The car I hit then turned into a parking lot, and I followed. Their car’s back end was smashed up a bit, but my car seemed relatively unimpacted. I went to get out of my car and the driver turned their car back on and drove off. My guess is that they thought the hit was intentional and that I was going to rob them. Perhaps, me holding the pager in my hand looked like a weapon. Who knows. I was seventeen and had no idea what to do. So, I walked to the nearest pay phone and called my dad. That’s the whole story. I called my dad who was calm, cool, and collected and happy no one was hurt. He said there wasn’t much to do if the other car drove off and my car didn’t have damage. A short conversation that made a lasting impact. There was no concern with who caused what, perhaps because it was so clearly my fault but only concern about the people involved and gratitude that no one was hurt.
Children pick things up from their parents. Often out of context. My children picked up that when the police come, sometimes people are put in the back of their car with their hands behind their back. Did this mean their dad was going to be arrested for being involved in a car accident? No. But the only proof of that not being true was seeing their dad calmly eat a piece of pizza in front of them.
However, our children saw their parents handle an accident that involved two inexperienced, young drivers, with compassion and care. Their only fear, albeit a not entirely a farfetched one, was not realistic given the context. And by the end they saw how the police helped the situation, and most importantly, no one left with their hands “stuck behind their back”.
Today, I will stive to lead with compassion and care in a world that can feel chaotic and random. I will remember the Mellow Mushroom and try to remain Mellow when life takes a detour. I will try to invoke gratitude when life gets messy and remember that I can be an active participant in the wellbeing of myself and those around me.