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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Moment Every Parent Dreads

There is a moment in every teenager's life when they know they've made a terrible mistake.

Sometimes it's the moment when you get into the back seat of a car and realize the driver is really drunk.

It could be the moment you decide to stay in that car because you're sure it will be OK.

The moment when you're at a party and the room is spinning and the boy is saying all these wonderful things and before you know it the moment is over.

Or it could be the moment when you are the designated driver but you look down when your IPhone buzzes and you slam into the car in front of you.

The Worst Moment in the World

Parents have those moments too but all the fear is about their children. There's the moment when they realize that they can't reach their child no matter how urgently they try. The gut feeling that the next call they're going to get is something really bad. Parents know - it's the moment when your entire body starts shaking and you know something has happened to your child.

You know because you are connected to that child in a way that no one else is.

We heard a story about that moment the other night at the local pool from family friends.Every year at this time, there is the same story, kids whose lives are just beginning a new chapter, who go out and drive a car drunk, or get in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving.  Every year some extremely promising teenagers are senselessly killed because of it. 

I could recite the story by heart. There’s a photo or video of a mangled car entangled with another one on a road. The kids are described as “good kids,” who didn’t get into trouble, played sports, had scholarships, and were headed off to college in the fall. 

Their are parents and relatives fighting back tears, taking their :30 to describe the life of the child they’ve lost. Their goal is to warn other parents to be more vigilant. I tear up just thinking about it. 

This time it was relatives of people we knew.

The post-high school parties

The week or two post high school graduation we as parents are distracted and tired, they've just conquered end of school madness. They need a break. Prom night we think about, we monitor, we make sure there are designated drivers, that we know where our kids are and who they are with.

Those other nights, when all the kids are getting ready to go away, or start their summer jobs or just split up for most of the summer, we pay less attention.Make sure you are home by 11:00 we say and when they come in a bit later, as long as they've called and explained why, we try to get a hug and say good night.

Everyone is at loose ends and this is a time when we should be vigilant, if for no other reason than teenagers think they are invincible. Maybe it's all the superhero movies, maybe it's just being in a body that can do anything, with a mind that test drives all the time.

Really Mom?

I told my son the story we heard at the pool and in all his 15 year-old, I’m learning to drive this summer, I’m so cool teen-dom, he didn’t want to hear it. The conversation went something like this.

My son: “I’ve heard that story before mom. My health teacher told it to us.”

Me: “These were real kids, kids that are relatives of people we know.”

My son: “In my health teacher’s story the kids died.”

Me: “The parents were trying to reach him and they tried his cell phone over and over again and then finally it rang and it was the police.”

My son:  “I’ve heard this story before mom. It’s exactly the same one my health teacher told us.”

Me:  “I just want you to remember that you will be driving soon, and your friends are driving and if you are ever in a situation where you shouldn’t get in a car with someone who is drunk, you can call me and I will come and get you.”

My son:  “OK mom, I’m going to go to bed now.”

The teflon teenager

All teenagers are bionic. They believe this as much as they believe that their friends will be their friends all their lives. They believe it because they look in the mirror every day and see themselves grow and change and become more beautiful. That others notice that too.

Teenagers also think they know everything. Actually that's not true, teenagers know they know everything.  They are right, you are wrong. So why should they the weigh the alternatives when they get into a situation that would make their parents cry? Instead, they make split second decisions that can cost them the rest of their lives.

We can't be there in that moment.

The face of that mom

I often tell my kids the story of a boy named Jay that I knew in high school, a smart, funny, popular boy I always had a bit of a crush on. We had just graduated high school and he was driving home from the beach with a group of boys he’d hung out with since kindergarten.  They were smashed into by a drunk driver and Jay was killed. Everyone else was OK.

I tell my children about another moment, at the funeral of the boy, how even at 17 years-old; I looked into his mother’s face and saw the emptiness, the shock, the lifetime of regret and sadness. How her face that day, will always stay with me. How I can never imagine it being my face.

Making the right decision

The grandmother in the group of us who were talking about the car crash, said her rule 25 years ago was simple. She told her kids, “If you ever can’t drive home, or the person who is going to drive you home is drunk, don’t get in the car. Call me and I will call come and get you”. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. A

And they did it – they met her in parking lots or shopping malls or outside of places they shouldn’t have been. But they called for a safe ride home. 

The 12 year-olds who heard this story at the pool will remember it when they’re 18. My son was listening even though he acted like it didn’t matter. So here’s a teachable moment for all of you. Use it.

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