10 November 2012

There but for the grace of God go I

It’s a lesson of life that bad stuff can happen even when you’re doing the right thing.

Today my two kids and I were crossing the road when the ‘green man’ buzzed, but a driver in a car saw the red light and I don’t know what she was thinking, or not thinking, but she decided to try and drive round the corner. Just as my 6-year-old skipped in front of her car. Let me say now that Ruby is fine, she wasn’t hit. But it could so easily have been a different story I’m typing tonight. As it is, the story that unfolded this afternoon has been on re-play through my head ever since (must be clocking up 9 hours by now!).

I did one thing wrong today – one thing – I let go of my kid’s hand and let her run ahead of me as we crossed the road. It’s a minor thing and on any given day hundreds of people do it. But in our family, the rules are you hold hands crossing the road, and you don’t run on the road. In the world of traffic, you don’t go when the lights in front of you are red and pedestrians are on the crossing. But today I let Ruby run ahead, without holding my hand (I had Leah on my hip and she’s no longer a one-handed hold!) and today a young chit of a thing had a blank moment and drove when she wasn’t supposed to.

All I saw was a car headed directly toward the skinny, skipping body of my happy little 6-year-old. I screamed. She turned. She saw the car, and she ran. But she was running to the right and the car was turning right and it must have seemed for all the world like the car was chasing her. It sure as hell felt like it to me, the more she moved out of the way, the more that car gained on her. I’m not sure if she screamed or not, but I’m sure someone else did, or maybe it was me hearing myself; they do say that happens. I reached my arm out as if to stop the car, grab my kid, something. Have to say it wasn’t very effective. I think other people were yelling, but I can’t be sure. It’s true, in times like this, your vision narrows and everything else becomes unreal, or a blur. The car stopped and the driver, a young skinny dark-haired woman with horror that probably equaled mine on her face half-fell out of the car. I remember turning to look at her as I was racing to Ruby; she was saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’. Ruby was standing stock still on the side of the road and just let me hug her. Thankfully someone had decided that corner was a good place to put a bench to sit on, so we all sat and hugged, and then the woman appeared – she had tears pouring down her face and just repeated, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ over and over again. Weirdly, I was calm. Ruby was calm. I even hugged the girl-woman and told her it was ok. It plainly wasn’t, but Ruby was ok and I felt for this girl too – I’ve also had a snap moment of inattention while driving and nearly hit a child with my car. It’s a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ situation. For all of us.

Then all of a sudden, I wasn’t really sure – had I let Ruby run out when the green man wasn’t actually lit? Did I miss something? I started to ask the girl, and right then a man from across the road arrived and pointed at the girl and said “you were at fault, you were in the wrong”. Kind of whew for me. It seems bad enough that something awful had just about happened, let alone if it had been my lack of judgment that got my baby nearly killed. Even so.

Eventually there was nothing left to do but carry on to our own car. I kept saying to Ruby ‘are you ok?’; she just wasn’t reacting like I expected her to. Then as she got into her car seat, her face and body crumpled.  “I dropped my lollipop” she sobbed, and the gates were unleashed. A frightened little girl emerged from the calm and composed layers. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a little one sobbing like their heart has broken and trying to comfort them when you know that nothing but time is going to work. And when you feel like sitting with your head in your hands and sobbing in exactly the same way.

Thanks to the support of friends who dropped and ran when I made the “something awful nearly just happened and I need some support” phone call, we made it through the rest of the afternoon, and ruby got a replacement lollipop. But I feel like my head’s been split all day – one half has been doing bathtime and getting dinner, the other half has the story on loop. Screaming at the car, reaching for my daughter, holding her while she cried, thanking the gods that she was ok ...

I’m going to bed now, but first, just for a bit, I’m going to sit on Ruby’s bed and watch her sleep. Because I can.