When my husband, Rob, and I moved to Charlottesville in August of 2001, I bought a new car—a trusty Toyota Corolla.
One year later, we left the maternity unit with our first child–our daughter, Liana. We strapped her into her car seat and drove off on a new adventure with our greatest privilege–and responsibility.
From the get-go, Liana seemed to have a mind of her own; she knew what she wanted.
As an older baby, she’d make noises while being held until we reached a certain destination. Rob and I joked that she liked us to carry her, not so much to be cuddled as to have a mode of transportation.
As for crawling and walking—this girl could not wait to go for it!
Liana continued along these lines, even riding a plane by herself at nine years old to visit her best friend who had moved away.
Fast-forward several more years–she was eager to get her driver’s license. She reached that milestone this past fall and started to borrow—did you guess?–my Corolla.
One month ago I bought a new car, and the Corolla is now Liana’s “new” car. It’s no longer fit for driving over mountains or long distances on the highway, but it’s still fine for local driving.
Yeah, it’s scratched and dented. It’s hit lots of potholes and bumps. It’s gone quite the distance. It’s not exactly a teenager’s aesthetic (or technological) dream, but she’s grateful.
That old Corolla—may it be as good to her as it’s been to me. I knew that I’d drive it for years. That’s what Rob and I do: we keep our cars. But I didn’t think I’d keep the Corolla for 18 years. Eighteen years of errands, carpools, and road trips.
Eighteen years of graduations—from preschool, elementary, and middle school.
This coming spring, Liana is due to graduate from high school. I’m already feeling her impending departure. I’m very excited for her. And yet, I’ll miss her so much.
I often find myself thinking, “This is the last [fill in the blank].” I’m growing sentimental (even more than usual). Five for Fighting’s song, “100 Years” runs through my head: “The sun is getting high. We’re moving on.” I know, I know, but I can’t help it…
I live life, feeling both the loss and the gratitude. For me, each magnifies the other: more loss because of the gratitude; more gratitude because of the loss. But in the end, gratitude wins big time. We’re lucky that she’s able to live her life.
For much of Liana’s childhood, it may have looked as though I were in the driver’s seat, but really, I’ve just been a guide.
I trust that Liana will continue to make good choices, to define success on her own terms, to live her best life. And I wish her all the luck in the world as she continues on her adventure, with greater privilege—and responsibility. I can’t wait to see where she takes herself.
One thing’s for sure: This girl is going places.
And wherever she goes… may she always see the wonder in the world.
It was a quiet morning, the start of what was to be an unscheduled day for me. Ahhh.
In the previous two weeks, my family and I had flown back from our family reunion in California… I had finished up an accelerated summer education course… I had had a routine screening colonoscopy… I had taken my girls to various annual appointments, gatherings with friends, back-to-school shopping, and their school open houses to meet their new teachers.
All good. But busy. (OK, the colonoscopy prep was no fun. But the results were good, so I’ll take it!)
I was planning to head out that afternoon to indulge in some writing which had taken a backseat during the spring and summer to teaching recertification. I would hide out at the library or a café… and escape from life for a while.
The door bell rang. A friend of my daughter Liana had arrived to pick up Liana so that they could go for haircuts. (Suddenly, over the summer, several of Liana’s friends had attained their driver’s licenses. And they were willing and, dare I say, eager to chauffeur. Yay!).
I rushed to get dressed, greet her friend, and say, “Bye and have fun.” What happened next happened so quickly that I’m not sure exactly how it happened. All I can say definitively is that I ruptured a tendon in my left pinky.
As I was getting dressed. Yes, I hurt myself getting dressed. More specifically, as I was yanking up my jeans. I heard “SNAP” and… I’ll spare you the details of what it looked like.
Ouch. I know it sounds crazy, and almost two weeks later, I’m still shaking my head. And laughing about it. Kind of.
My husband, Rob, rushed me to the nearby urgent care center owned by one of the local hospital systems. The nurse joked with me that I must have been doing something heroic. Ha!
I had x-rays taken and my pinky was put in a temporary splint. Good news! The tendon hadn’t pulled off any bone.
But! I would need surgery. Bummer. I was given a referral to an orthopedic doctor with directions to call on Monday morning.
Saturday (continued) & Sunday
I iced and elevated. And continued on with life, disturbed that I could hurt myself getting dressed and sad whenever I peeked at my limp pinky in the splint. Every now and then, I fantasized that it would bounce back to life and not require surgery.
All the while, though, I felt grateful that it wasn’t worse, that I had family at home to help me, and that we have good health insurance (while feeling very acutely that everyone deserves good health insurance).
I contacted a friend who had had a hand injury last year, inquiring where she had been referred to and cared for. She raved about the UVA Hand Center (where I had not been referred to) saying that her child had also received excellent care there. Having great trust in my friend’s judgment, I decided to make the call there, first thing on Monday morning.
The kind person who took my call got me onto the schedule that very day. Indeed, I received excellent care. And then I heard these words: “I don’t think you’re going to need surgery for this.”
“We see this type of injury all the time. It usually heals on its own. We’ll get you into a custom-made splint and show you how to dress it.”
I’d come in fully expecting to schedule surgery. Instead I felt like I’d won the lottery.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll need surgery in the end. But I’m going with this until we know more. And I’ll be keeping my fingers, umm, crossed.
I’m under doctor’s orders to air out my pinky for 15-30 minutes every day. Since I have to support it with my other hand, I can’t be my usual self during that time, i.e. either buzzing around doing stuff or sitting still reading and writing. So I’m doing something I’ve barely made time for since my kids were born: watching TV. Rob got a big flat-screen TV ten years ago and I barely know how to work the thing.
So, there we are, Rob and I, watching a half-hour of TV together each evening. Often it turns into an hour. I’ve laughed a lot. And I wonder why I hadn’t joined him in front of the TV sooner. I like to think it’s just what the doctor ordered.
While I grew more skilled at washing the dishes and my hair with one hand covered in a plastic bag, my girls started their new school year learning algebra and trigonometry. They came home with stories to tell and I felt grateful to be a recipient.
After dinner Liana pulled the ice cream tub from the freezer. “Uh, this is really soft.” She took a close look into the freezer. “Everything is soft and melting.”
Oh no. This fridge was 14 or 15 years old. It had been a tad too tall to fit underneath the cabinets, and the delivery guy (with our OK) sawed off the bottom part of the cabinet frame so that it would fit.
About 10 years, the crushed ice function had stopped working. More recently, the filtered water had stopped working. And it had started making strange sounds.
We had just needed to replace the entire heat pump a few months before. The stove, dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer were all older than the fridge. Don’t go, fridge! Not yet!
I left the kitchen table and crept toward the fridge, not wanting to face reality. On the way, I peered into the ice cream tub, and the ice cream resembled soft-serve. I reached into the freezer, touched the chicken, and it sprang back. Water was dripping from the ice container, dribbling down the walls of the freezer and onto the kitchen floor.
And yet for the second time since Saturday, I hoped against hope. Maybe it wasn’t really completely broken. Maybe we wouldn’t have to deal with another bill, another inconvenience, another thing to do.
Rob had had to work late. Fifteen minutes later he came home and was convinced that we had to deal with it. Well, all right, if we must…
I remembered that our neighbors had a deep freezer in their garage. I called them. Even better! They had replaced their fridge recently and moved their old one into the garage. It was working and nearly empty! They welcomed us to use it.
We packed up everything except for essentials for the next day’s breakfast and lunch. Rob and Liana brought over the food to our kind neighbors. Then Rob went out to get Ready Ice for the freezer where we then stored the essentials.
Leaving four dishtowels on the floor in front of the fridge to sop up the dribbling water, I spent the better part of Thursday shopping for a fridge that would fit our smaller space. At Lowe’s there was one more in stock! On sale! To be delivered on Sunday! Score!
We knew we would survive with our food just down the cul-de-sac road. And we marveled at how people in our world live without a fridge and other privileges that many of us take for granted.
On Friday morning, Liana raced up the stairs to my bedroom. “Mom! Everything is frozen! My lunch is frozen!”
I ran down to the kitchen and threw open the freezer door (careful to protect my pinky, of course). It was working! I threw open the fridge door. Working, too!
No more water dribbling out of the freezer.
Maybe a mechanical part had gotten clogged with ice, shutting down the machine until the water had drained? I really had/have no idea. There’s a reason I stick to books.
I voiced the possibility of canceling the new fridge, but the other three people in my house vetoed that right away. Yeah, it had become too flaky. Sometimes it’s best to let things go. And we were lucky that we could afford to let this one go.
Later that day I was headed home at the start of rush hour. First, I planned to make quick stops at the library and supermarket. The cars were going the usual 60 mph on this stretch of a two-lane highway. I was traveling in the right lane, preparing to exit soon, when I noticed that a line of stopped cars had suddenly started to form. Maybe an accident? Or an overflow of exiting cars?
The-car-in-front-of-me stopped. I stopped. I looked in my rearview mirror. The-car-behind-me stopped.
But the-car-two-cars-behind-me DID! NOT! STOP!
It was coming. I would be rear-ended.
I heard it: “CRASH!”
But wait. Where was the second “CRASH!”? You know, my car? My car hadn’t budged from the impending impact of the-car-behind-me. Why hadn’t my car been jolted?
And then I saw the-car-behind-me fly to my left-hand side and stop beyond me in my lane.
And then I saw the-car-two-cars-behind-me fly between our two cars and continue beyond the-car-behind-me.
I pulled over to the break-down lane and looked around, trying to process what had just happened during the last few seconds.
The-car-behind-me was smashed in the rear and in the front. The-car-in-front-of-me had sustained less damage, but still, it had been hit and was further up in the right lane than the-car-behind-me. The-car-two-cars-behind-me was behind the-car-in-front-of-me, but in the break-down lane.
So, the-car-two-cars-behind-me had hit the-car-behind-me AND the-car-in-front-of-me.
And my car was untouched. Untouched.
I took a photo (which I’m not posting to protect the privacy of the other drivers), then got out of my car.
The road was littered with car debris. The traffic behind us had halted. Including the semi who was the first vehicle in the left lane. Oh, what a scary thought I had when I saw that truck…
Everyone said they were OK. Thank Goodness.
A police officer came quickly. Traffic started to move in the left lane.
Each driver talked to the police officer. I was free to go and got into my car. The police officer waved me forward, my car tires crunching pieces of the other cars that were all much newer and nicer than my 17-year-old car.
As I drove, I replayed the scene in my head over and over, trying to make sense of this accident that happened all around me but had left my car (and most importantly, my body) unharmed.
I hadn’t seen it all unfold. As with my pinky, it happened so quickly. But given the aftermath and after several mental replays, I think this is what transpired:
After the-car-two-cars-behind-me hit the-car-behind-me in the rear, the-car-behind-me steered into the left lane, presumably to avoid hitting my car, and then steered back into the right lane. The-car-two-cars-behind-me steered between the-car-behind-me and my car, presumably to avoid hitting either one of our cars. However, because it was traveling so fast, the-car-two-cars-behind-me hit the-car-behind-me again, this time in the front; and then went on to hit the-car-in-front-of-me.
I could not believe how lucky I was to be able to go on with my day. If my pinky had been like winning the lottery, this was like winning countless lotteries.
I made it to the library ten minutes before closing to drop off some books and take some books off of hold. I picked up a few groceries for dinner at the supermarket and headed home.
Rob met me at the door. I said, “I was almost in a bad car accident.” That, of course, made no sense.
So he said, “What?” And I explained, feeling ever so grateful. And wishing the very best for the drivers and passengers of those three cars.
The weekend had been uneventful, thankfully.
And then the highlight arrived on Sunday afternoon: the new fridge.
It fit! It worked!
For the past six days, we’ve been enjoying crushed ice and filtered water.
We love our new fridge. Well, everyone except for the cats who are wary of it. Maybe it looks like a gigantic animal. It certainly looks and sounds different. And probably smells different, too.
But unlike the pinky that needed surgery, the fridge that had drawn its final breath, and the car accident that was bound to happen, this new fridge is indeed what is seems to be.
What did I take away from that week?
A LOT. I won’t mention every teeny tiny thing, but here are Amy’s Top Three (oldies but goodies):
Be mindful; stay in the moment. I’m trying to use my pinky as a wake-up call. When I’m getting dressed, let that be what I’m focusing on instead of thinking about a zillion other things that may distract me… Or maybe I’ll just stay in my pajamas the next time the doorbell rings.
Be kind. I interacted with a number of people, mostly strangers, as I dealt with these three situations. I was met with way more kindness than not, and every bit of it mattered. I would go into things more, but this is already a super long post! Thanks for making it this far.
Be hopeful. Like the saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. There is always hope.
Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! Whether you’re traveling far or staying close to home, safe travels to you and yours. And everyone.
It’s not good story-telling, I know, to give away the ending at the beginning. But I don’t like stressing people out with this sort of thing, so I’ll cut to the chase. I recently had a biopsy done, and it came back negative. Yay!
I’ll also leave out most of the story, the part that led up to the biopsy — what?! — because what I want to share is what I got out of the experience. There is a short story in that, though.
See these branches?
They’re on a tall pine tree outside of my bathroom window. When I called my doctor’s office for the results, I retreated to my master-bedroom bathroom. This way, I’d be out of earshot from my kids who were home on a snow day (which yielded no snow, so the branches looked just like this).
I waited for the office staff to put my call through to the nurse. It took a long time before the nurse picked up. Well, maybe a minute or two, but it felt like a long time.
There wasn’t much to do in the bathroom, so I gazed out of the window at those branches on a beautiful, blue-sky day.
On the one hand, the branches looked vulnerable – sitting way up high, extending far from the trunk, bobbing in the breeze.
On the other hand, they’d weathered many storms over the years. Whipped around by high winds. Pelted by heavy rain. Weighed down by snow and ice.
Those branches had been really good at bending and not breaking. I’d been watching them for sixteen and a half years. A few had broken from extreme stress, but for the most part, they’d remained resilient.
So, as I waited for the nurse, I anchored myself by watching those strong, flexible branches. And I thought about how the nurse on the other end of the phone would give me news, likely either: “It’s negative,” or “The doctor will call you” (which I’ve come to understand often means bad news).
And I thought about how the news, depending on what it was, would take my life in one direction or another.
Would I proceed with my plans for the rest of this school year? Or would a good deal of my time and energy need to go elsewhere?
Whatever the news, I hoped to handle things as those branches do. In that moment, I don’t think I could have laid eyes on a better role model. They keep it simple. They do what they need to do. And they do so with grace.
They seemed to be saying, quietly, “You got this. Whatever it may be.”
As it turns out, I was lucky. Before this, I’d been lucky — and unlucky — in other life situations.
Haven’t we all been in both of those places? Lucky? Unlucky? Be it health or something else? Something little or something big? It’s just part of the human experience.
This makes me think of another very short story. When my younger daughter was three years old, she had an accident while under my care. She required stitches, as had my older daughter a few years prior. I felt awful. Both of them. Under my care! Maybe I could have prevented it, if only I had…
My brother, Pete, who happens to be a family practitioner, told me over the phone, “You’ve probably helped her avoid other accidents. You just don’t know it.”
That was such an eye opener, and I felt so much better. What a compassionate response. And what a novel way of looking at motherhood and at life. I also took it to mean: Luck is all around, even when we don’t know it.
I’m aware of how fleeting and fragile life is. It’s a heavy awareness to live with, yet it’s part of what feeds my gratitude. That awareness makes me feel grateful to wake up each day.
That awareness also makes me avoid drama (which is different from conflict). I have no time and energy for the former. I’d rather be doing something meaningful or having fun. Or eating chocolate.
Those moments, like my phone call with the nurse, feel like reminders from the universe to sharpen that awareness and gratitude and perspective when it may be dulling.
As I’ve moved forward from that phone call, I’ve held on to the image of those branches swaying gracefully. They don’t know what will come their way; they just keep bending.
Those branches remind me to keep bending. They remind me that I’m lucky (even when I don’t know it).