November 2019, 12.30pm. My husband’s phone rang. It was the phone call that no parent wants to receive. My son and his mate had been involved in a major car accident on the highway nearby our house.
Without too much discussion my husband pulled on his shoes and raced out the door to find them. “I think you should stay here ’til I know more,” he said to me. “I’ll call you as soon as I can.” And then he was gone. And I was sitting in a quiet house with the unknown.
We were soon to find out that my son’s mate had lost control of the car while accelerating onto the highway. The car crashed through the highway fence (yep all the way through it!) and straight into a highway light pole at which point the car rolled six times back across the highway. It was just the two of them in the car.
Before anyone jumps to the conclusion of drink-driving, or speeding…. the police determined that it was combination of accelerating where there was a dip in the curved road, and inexperienced driving. There were no reckless driving fines issues. My son could have lost control of that car just as easily as his mate did.
The sheer reality that teenagers (and young adults) will make mistakes and have lapses in judgement is very hard to swallow as a parent, especially once they are behind the wheel. No matter how well we parent our children, they will get things wrong. Sometimes those mistakes are intentional. Other times unintentional. Some mistakes are bigger than others!
To paint the whole picture: Eight police cars, two ambulances, a fire truck and the media were pretty quickly at the scene, along with an audience of people who lived behind the now broken fence. The following night the accident was featured on the news with the caption “Two Mates Survive a Horrific Crash”.
Miraculously (deliberate choice of words), the boys walked away shaken up but completely uninjured.
By the time my husband found the site of the accident, both boys were in an ambulance on the way to hospital. Because my son’s phone was thrown into the back of the car on impact, neither my husband or I heard from him until an ambulance officer lent him his phone. The sound of both my husband’s reassuring voice and my eventually my son’s voice were like nothing I could describe.
I could have lost my son that night. It could have changed the trajectory of our entire family. I am very conscious there will be people reading this blog post whose children were not so lucky. My heart breaks for you. The thought of any of any children being harmed is just too much for any parent to bear.
Any life-threatening situation make you assess all your priorities, instantly. I questioned every decision I’d ever made leading up to the incident, and then some. I want to share what raced through my thoughts that night, and over the next few weeks as we processed it together.
THINGS I LEARNT:
1. I am unable to control the circumstances in my children’s lives, current or future. There is nothing I could have done that would have changed that accident. Absolutely nothing. This was HARSH for me to come to terms with. I kept asking myself – “What could I could have done to prevent this? What could I do to prevent it from happening again?” Besides lock him up FOREVER, there was no answer. We can’t control life. We can’t control our kids (can someone please tell me why don’t come with a remote control?!) … but we can meet every circumstance with the very best of who we are.
3. I’d given him ALL the lectures about safe driving, drink driving, being an attentive passenger…blah blah. I had told him stories of young people I had sat with in ICU and in a coma, some left with permanent disabilities. Only a few months earlier one of my son’s friends had died suddenly in a motorbike accident, which had brought up a lot of discussion about road safety. I was thankful I had ticked the boxes and been a pre-emptive parent. At least now I could say, “SEE!!! I was right!!!!”
4. Repetition is essential. It you have a teenager or young adult you will notice that there is a hole in the bucket. I will continue to thoughtfully talk about road safety because young people live in the moment, and have a very short retention rate! Each day is a new experience which enables them to approach information in new ways. Just because they didn’t digest what you said on Monday, doesn’t mean they won’t devour it on Thursday.
5. Know your kids’ friends and remind them to drive like a NANNA. That’s our saying now. Every now and then I get a bit edgy when he leaves the house in someone else’s car. I prefer him to be behind the wheel. His mates understand that the “drive like a Nanna” goodbye lecture is the easiest way for me to let go again.
6. We need to let our teenagers be resilient. That means we have to let go – again, and again and again. Oh the pain in letting go!!!!! The day after the accident my son sat me down and said, “Mum I need to get in a car again. I NEED TO. I have to do it sometime and I think I’m best to do it straight away. Now I know that are going to be worried, but I have to do this.” I gave him the biggest eye roll in the whole wide world, but I knew he was right. The best thing to do after a trauma is get back on the horse, rather than sit in the fear of it.
7. “Mum, it’s time to get over it,” he said to me the other day when I casually brought up the accident over breakfast. MY RESPONSE, “Well honey, when you almost lose a child, you can make your own choices about when you get over it. As for me, I will get over it when I am ready to get over it.” Don’t tell him this, but there is something inside of me that knows he is right. Letting go of the mistakes, disappointments and experiences (that not only rocked their world but ours) is the only way to look forward to the bright future that is there for us to claim. Letting go with gratitude and grace, after receiving a little more wisdom, is the door that beckons us all forward.
And Some Practicals…
1. When choosing your child’s first car, safety does matter. My son’s mate’s car had 11 airbags which protected the boys. Eleven wonderful airbags, and probably a few extra angels too!!! I will never know what the outcome would have been if they weren’t in that particular car.
2. A defensive driving course is essential. My boys did one through school, but there are many options around. When you think that it could save a child’s life the cost of them becomes insignificant.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.