A Family Matter

It’s easy to be selfish. I’ve been so overwhelmed lately by all of the things going on in my life that I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything or anyone but myself.  Going back to work, trying to finish His Heart Aflame, planning for my upcoming book signing at Octoberfest. I’ve been scrambling to pay bills with money I haven’t earned yet, stressing about my books, my job, my bills, my kids.

Me, me, me. It’s all about me.

Until this morning, when my daughter said, “Nick’s been in a car accident, Mom.”

Let me backtrack. “Nick” is not one of my kids.  Not one of my nephews or cousins or any kind of a blood relation.  He’s one of my daughter’s friends, the son of one of my friends.  A good kid, but not one of mine.

Still, the world stopped for a moment. Just until she read a little farther down the Facebook post and found out that he’s going to be okay.  Shaken up, a bit bruised and royally pissed off about getting some points on his license, but okay.

I don’t like this part of parenting. I’m a worrier; yes, I am that mom.  I’m the mom who always expects the worst when it comes to my kids’ safety.  I am both fiercely overprotective and ridiculously pessimistic.  I am constantly afraid of all of the horrible things that could happen to my babies.  If I had it my way, they would never learn to drive or leave the house unescorted.   I wish I could wrap all three in big safety bubbles and watch them every second of every minute of every day, just to keep them safe.

I go overboard with the worrying about my own kids, but I am not supposed to worry about other people’s kids like this. They aren’t mine.  It’s not my place.

But this is a small town. Most of these kids have known each other since preschool or at least early elementary.  Some have known each other since birth.  They don’t all like each other; there are definite cliques in our tiny school, just as there are in larger schools.

But these guys know each other, and we parents know them.  We watch out for each other, either to protect or to keep track of the gossip about whose kid did what.  Our kids compete to see who will get the best grades, who will be the best football player, who will be Valedictorian.  And the parents?  We compare notes and we brag about our kids, and I think we’ve all had our moments of feeling a bit smug when one of ours came out on top.

But when one of our kids is hurt, we aren’t just a small town. We are more than a community.  We are a family.

When one of our kids is hurt, we don’t care who got better grades or who made into the Homecoming Court. It doesn’t matter if someone’s parent offended someone else’s parent, or even if our kids were fighting with each other.

All that matters is, Is he going to be okay?

As our kids get older and gain more freedom from us, they face more dangers and we face more fears. Most of them are driving now, which means we have so much more to worry about.  One boy broke his neck in an accident on icy roads last winter; another broke a femur in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in May, and now Nick rolled his Dad’s truck trying to avoid a Sandhill Crane in the middle of the road.

When one of our kids is hurt, I don’t just think, wow, that could have been mine.  I think, I remember when he went to Little League All-Stars with my son.    I think, I remember when he used to call my daughter ten times a day and then hang up in a panic when a grown-up answered the phone.  I think, Hey, I promised my kid I’d invite that boy over for dinner someday.

I think, No, we can’t lose these kids. The world needs them.  God, please keep protecting them!

And then life goes on. We put on a little more make-up to cover the new worry lines, and we joke about our kids giving us more gray hairs, and we go back to work.  Back to parenting, back to worrying, back to praying that God will keep them safe one more time through one more close call.

And we hug them a little tighter, hold them a little closer, try so hard not to let them go.

Even when they aren’t our own.

AMAZING!

Scrolling through Facebook recently, I saw the video that one of my friends posted.  “You GOTTA watch this!  It’s AMAZING!” he said, so I clicked on the link.

It certainly was amazing, but not in the way I expected.

It was one of those dash-cam videos, showing the highway and countryside speeding past as a family chatted and giggled in the car.  A baby cooed and gibbered happily somewhere in the background.

I don’t know what I expected.   I thought it was going to be something funny, something silly.  Maybe something truly amazing, like a UFO streaking by.  Instead, an oncoming car suddenly lost control, flipped over the median and plunged into the windshield, crushing the dash-cam.  The last sound was the screams of terror and agony of the family.

Really?

You know, I love going to the local racetrack.  My favorite events are the Factory Stock heats, because those cars are moving junk heaps driven by people who have little interest in keeping the cars pretty.  They bounce off each other and slam into walls and occasionally roll over upside-down.  The crashes are the best part.

Sort of like the fights at a hockey game.  Hockey is no fun at all when the players behave. That’s not to say I want to see the Kalamazoo Wings hire the Hanson brothers to “put on the foil” and re-enact the movie Slapshot.  But if somebody doesn’t throw down his gloves and punch somebody else, hockey is nothing more than men on skates chasing a piece of rubber with big sticks.

It’s all about the excitement.  The chance of danger.  The thrill of knowing that something unpredictable could happen at any time and somebody just might get hurt.

But there’s also the knowledge that those racecar drivers are wearing HANS devices, fireproof suits, special helmets.  The cars have roll bars, five-point harnesses, and other safety devices that I won’t even pretend to understand.  Hockey players wear masks and padding and protective gear.  If any of these guys get hurt, it probably won’t be anything serious.

I guess I am as blood-thirsty as the next person.  When I go to a hockey game at Wings Stadium or a “Night of Destruction” event at the Kalamazoo Speedway, I expect to see some violence.  Maybe a little blood.  Just a little.

When I click on an “AMAZING” video on Facebook, I don’t.

What is wrong with us, as a society, that any one of us would take such joy in sharing a video of a family being snuffed out in a car accident?  This is not entertainment.  This is tragedy.  This is horrific.

I’ve seen this same video shared by two people on my friends list.  One was a guy from my high school; I don’t know him well, but he always seemed like a pretty nice guy.  The other was my cousin’s husband, who is one of the most good-natured, friendly people I’ve ever met.  Neither one of these men is the type to take pleasure in the suffering of others, and yet both shared this horrific crash video with the same kind of enthusiastic preamble:  “You GOTTA see this!  It’s AMAZING!”  Or some variation of those words.

It wouldn’t be so bad if even one of them had said something along the lines of, “Oh, man, this is really terrible!”

It’s human nature to be drawn to violent and horrifying images.  Obviously, I know that.  Just like everyone else in America, I was glued to the TV after Oklahoma City and September 11; I watched the footage of the destruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the Joplin tornadoes.  In short, I am not condemning anyone for watching the video, or even for sharing it.

The part that turns my stomach is the enthusiasm and celebration that seems to come along with sharing it.

I would love to use this as a soapbox to make a statement on our world, and about the way people today seem to have become numb to the suffering of others.  I could complain about Facebook or start “unfriending” anyone who shares a violent video.

But instead, I’m going to ask that you all just take a moment to think before you share something on Facebook or any other form of Social Media.  Think about that video of a family’s final moments and terrifying deaths; if you absolutely must share it with others, do you really have to do so with such obvious glee?

If so, maybe you should ask yourself why you think it’s so AMAZING.  Ask yourself why you enjoy it so much.

I wonder if you’ll like the answer.

Seconds

It’s coming.

The sun came up an hour ago, and I went outside in the watery morning light to open up the chicken coop and let the chickens out.  It looked and felt like rain; even the morning weather girl on WWMT News seemed decidedly un-chipper when she warned of big storms with “potentially damaging winds”.

It’s coming.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and it’s as dark as it was at 5:30.  Through a crack in the living room curtains, I can see the trees swaying as those “potentially damaging winds” get closer.   The breeze coming through the window is surprisingly cool, and it brings with it a smell of wet grass, of dirt, of outside.

I just heard the first crack of thunder.  Looking out the back door, I can see dark, swirling clouds in a sky that has taken on a greenish-yellow tinge.

It’s here.

It’s perfectly normal to be a little bit afraid of some of the powerful storms here in Michigan.  I still crawled in bed with my mother during storms until I was in middle school.   I have childhood memories of watching storms come in off the Lake that were so strong that rain was driven through the walls of our cottage, around the window frames and under the door.  I was fourteen years old when an F4 tornado ripped through the downtown area, killing five people and leaving a trail of devastation that the town is still recovering from.

I will never forget the sight of the mannequins from Gilmore’s Department Store, strewn throughout the wreckage.

We thought they were bodies.

It’s perfectly normal to feel apprehensive when these storms move in.   I have children sleeping upstairs, a husband on his way to work, loved ones out driving to and from work in this weather.  I have a dog and three cats who are currently freaking out, trying to hide under my couch and cuddle with me while simultaneously trying to avoid each other.  Any person would feel that little flicker of concern for their safety in threatening weather.

But what I am feeling is not normal.

It’s not fear or apprehension.

It’s stark, unreasoning terror.  It is the certain knowledge that I will die in this storm.   That these are the last moments of my life.  My heart is pounding; I can’t catch my breath.  I am ice-cold and boiling hot at the same time.  Menopausal hot flashes are nothing compared to the heat radiating from my body at this moment, while icy waves of numbing chills keep washing over me. My eyes burn with tears that I am too scared to shed.

It is not a matter of wondering if the storm will turn deadly.  I just know it will. Period.

Logic says otherwise.  After all, I have survived hundreds –no, thousands– of thunderstorms in my lifetime.  And really, what are the odds?   They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  By that reasoning, I should be the safest person on Earth.  Think about it:  how likely was it that one lonely tree on that stretch of road was going to fall over at the precise moment when I happened to be driving under it, at just the right speed, at just the right second?  One or two seconds earlier or later, to the right or to the left, and it could have missed me completely.

Or it could have killed me instantly.

So many random factors, all adding up to that one unpredictable, unstoppable instant.  That split second of “are you freaking kidding me?!”  when I heard it and saw it and knew it was going to crush me.  That infinitesimal moment that lasted forever but happened so fast that there was no time to do anything but watch.

Watch and know, beyond a doubt, that it was going to hit and it was going to hurt and that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s not what people think.  When storms hit, I am not re-living the entrapment, the extrication, the pain.  I’m not seeing what came after.  No, I am back in my van, in that one second.  Over and over.  Seeing the tree, knowing I had nowhere to go, no way to escape.  Smelling the rain, feeling the wind gusts rock my van, and not being able to do anything.

That’s the part I can’t move past.

That’s why I hate thunderstorms.   It’s not the storms themselves.  It’s that one tree, in that one second, that just won’t stop falling on me.

Worth More than a Thousand Words

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As a rule, I don’t like pictures of myself.   I always think I look fat and my smile looks forced.   I am not now, nor have I ever been a photogenic person.

So it may seem odd that I would choose a picture of myself to write about.

This is one of the few pictures of me that I actually like, because of the smile I’m wearing.  For once, my smile doesn’t look forced and camera-fake; I look genuinely, eye-sparkling, on-the-brink-of-joyous-tears happy.

Of course, there’s a story.

With me, there’s always a story.

When I came home from the hospital after my car accident, my hair was red.  Not by choice; it had been an over-processed, porous blonde that became stained by blood from my head injury.  The ER nurse shaved an inch-wide swath across the top so the doctor could stitch my scalp, and someone else shaved from the nape up to my occipital so the surgeon had room to rebuild my shattered neck.  Three other round spots were shaved to make room for what we later referred to as “corncob holders” – metal pieces attached to my skull to keep me from moving during the surgery.

Afterward, they strapped me into a metal and plastic contraption that immobilized everything from the waist up.  It pushed my double chins up into my eyeballs; I think it forced cleavage into my earlobes and backfat up my nose.  Then they stood me up with a walker and sent me on my way.

It was not a good look for me.

Yikes!  Tina, of course, is beautiful as always
Yikes! Tina, of course, is beautiful as always

I am not a vain person, but I like to do my hair and make-up.  As a cosmetologist, it was always important for me to look finished: hair styled, make-up applied, jewelry in all of the appropriate orifices.  But in those first weeks, I couldn’t do any of those things.   No contact lenses, no make-up.  I couldn’t shower, and those “dry shampoos” didn’t do anything about the oil and caked blood in what was left of my poor, tufty hair.  I wore wrinkled hospital gowns or baggy clothes that fit around the brace, going barefoot or in worn flip flops.  Jewelry was out of the question; even my wedding ring had been removed at the hospital, and there was no suggestion of trying to force it back onto my numb left hand.

For seven weeks, I had to look at that.  I had to smell that.  In the face of people telling me how lucky I was to be alive, I had to deal with the guilt of feeling like an ungrateful brat for being depressed about my appearance.  I hated myself, my pain-wracked body, my lost career, the hot weather.  Everything.  Especially that damned brace.

I felt shallow and ugly and stupid.

When the brace came off, my former co-workers at DGist Salon took care of me.  They cut and colored my hair, shaped my brows, applied my make-up.   They pampered me and made me human again.

And they took that picture with my phone.

What was I thinking?  I’m pretty!  I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay.   There’s more than joy in my eyes in that picture; I see hope, gratitude, love. . . and a little spark that I thought I had lost somewhere in the twisted metal and broken glass.

What happened next?  Good days, bad days, everything in between.

Recovery.

Life.