This morning, I took my nine year old daughter out for our regular Saturday morning bike ride. We have made a habit of riding around town for about three miles. This morning, we chose to ride on the sidewalk. We’ve done this route a few times before, and we both really enjoy it because the sidewalk is smoother and feels safer than the street. We left the house at 9:37am.
The ride was great. It was a beautiful day with a cool breeze which made us welcome the hot sun. Toward the end of our ride, I told her to make a right onto our street. And that’s when, out of nowhere, she decided to turn left onto the busy street instead.
It was only a second, but it seemed like an hour in slow motion. I froze as I watched her weave her way across the busy street without looking. I froze again as I realized that the cars going in both directions had stopped to let her go. And then I realized that I needed to get across to her. The first rational thought that crossed my mind was that she was okay. She made it. She’s alive. The second rational thought I had was to get off my bike and run. In hindsight, this doesn’t make much sense, as riding a bike to her would have been faster. But running as fast as I could was what I decided on. When I got to her, she was shaken and scared. I had no words. I just stared at her. When words finally came to my mind and out of my mouth, they were, “What in the world were you thinking? You could have been killed!” I couldn’t understand why she made the left. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t stop her bike and look both ways as she has been taught to do since she was a little girl. I couldn’t understand how she was still alive when she had come literally inches from getting hit by a car.
We rode home in silence. And when we got inside the house, we both went to our rooms. I immediately got into the shower and replayed the whole thing again in my head. I went over all of the things that could have happened. But mostly, I was searching for ways I could have stopped her. I came up with dozens of things I should have done differently. I beat myself up for freezing instead of reacting immediately. I thought how ridiculous it was to get off my bike and run. I thought about what a terrible mom I was to not demand that she stop her bike before every turn. I thought of all of the regrets I would have had if she had gotten hit.
After the shower, I went to her room and she was crying. She was scared and worried that I was mad at her for making a mistake. She said she got confused. She said that even though she heard me say “right”, she thought we lived the other way and was just trying to go home. And that’s when it hit me. There was nothing I could have done. Even if her mistake proved to be fatal, there would have been nothing I could have done to change the fact that, in her mind, “left” was the way to go. I held onto her for as long as she let me, and I realized something. The only real regret I had regarding today’s scare had nothing to do with how I failed to stop her bike from crossing that street. The regret I had was my immediate reaction and communication with my daughter. The truth is that she made a snap decision that was out of my control. The bigger truth is that throughout her life, she is going to make tons of similar decisions that won’t make sense to me and that I won’t be able to prevent. I wish I would have thrown my arms around her to comfort her as soon as I had gotten to the other side of the street. Instead, I focused on how I felt and let my emotions control that moment. And I learned such a great lesson from it. Regardless of what mistakes she makes in her future, going forward, I will always choose to react with love instead of fear, and comfort instead of strength.
To the two drivers of the cars that stopped as my daughter darted across the road unexpectedly, thank you for stopping. Thank you for paying attention to something that you normally wouldn’t have to pay attention to. Thank you for not speeding. Thank you for not texting while driving. Thank you for saving my daughter’s life.
*This piece was featured on BlogHer on October 25, 2014