Last week we had a bad three-car car wreck on a highway near the hospital where I work. The center of the three car sandwich was a family who's car was rear ended and pushed into oncoming traffic, where they were hit head on. One child was ejected out onto the highway, one had his head crushed when he flew around inside the car, and the third was unharmed in her carseat.
I was working the blood bank that evening. There's nothing more awful for a parent than working a trauma with children. Most of your brain is working on work: crossmatching as fast as you can for multiple people at the same time and then sending units out the door. Again and again and again until the E.R. runners stop showing up at your elbow, the phone stops ringing, the helicopters take off, and you can look around and breathe.
But I think it's especially difficult for us parents. The thought periodically pops into our heads, "What if those were my kids?" It reminds us of ever stupid thing we ever did raising our own and how many ways it could have gone bad.
The parents in the car were relatively unharmed. The little boy died, and his sister was flown to St. Louis by helicopter to a full-service pediatric trauma center, where I suspect she'll be a guest for a fairly long time.
The parents had to leave the hospital, get in a car and go home with their new reality. The accident wasn't their fault, but the unbelted kids were. They'll have the rest of their lives to wish for that moment back.
I'm currently mad at my grown daughter. She and I have gotten crossways in about all the ways a relationship can get crossways. I'm so mad, in fact, that when she moved to Chicago last week I told her to give me a few months to cool down before she gets in touch.
I know I'll get over it. Like the lady at the City Hall said yesterday, "Honey, they don't even think about growing up until they're 30."
The juxtaposition of my anger with my daughter and the death of someone else's children nags at me. Forgiveness is a gift for everyone; it doesn't make anyone's life better to hang on to old grievences. It also doesn't make life better to be a doormat...there's a balance to be struck there somewhere. However, it's not a straight line from here to there. There's all sorts of curvy side paths on the way...a mix of how could you, sprinkled with some recognition of the same selfish behavior from our own past, plus the nagging thought that this may be my fault somehow.
I love my kids. Hell, everyone loves their kids. But it's easy to think about all the times we've done things with them that could have had disasterous consequences. It's amazing that people survive their childhoods, and that parents survive their parenthood. But we do mostly, and then the kids grow up and have their own kids who make them crazy with anger and fear and love and pride, sometimes all at once, just like we did to our own parents. It's a contract that families have: I'll forgive you for every crappy thing you did on your path to adulthood, but the price you have to pay for that is forgiving your own kids their crappy behavior.
Like Katie used to say, "It's the ciwcle of yife."
It's the Mother's Curse...Someday you'll have children just like you. We hope. If you're lucky.