The English Hawthorne was my favorite tree in our yard. She reached out with graceful branches much like a Russian olive or cherry, arching over our back hillside. You could have mistaken her for a crone, her spine bent and craggy, thorny fingers that made her difficult to prune. But when she bloomed she was pure beauty.
In early spring, I would ask myself, “What is that terrible smell? Oh yes, the Hawthorn is in bloom!” The sweet pungent odor and white translucence didn’t last, one gusty day the petals fell to the ground and berries would take over. And by Summer, you could miss her entirely, becoming part of the tangled mess of scrub growing alongside her.
The trunk had a darker spot where the bumper of the truck hit, years ago, the day our daughter kneeled on the driver’s seat, put the gears in neutral and rolled down the hill. The Hawthorn’s slender body bringing her to a stop.
Our daughter, so small and curious at five to be behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. I saw her curly head above the seat where the driver should be as I approached the truck from behind, my step breaking in to a run when I saw the truck rolling. Rolling toward the hill at the end of the driveway. It’s difficult to out-run a truck, even when merely rolling, though it looks like it could be possible.
Fly tells my brain, hurry! hurry! My legs are tense and heavy, preventing me from breaking into an effective stride. I wait for my body to catch up, each muscle to fire, yet they do not cooperate with my desire to outrun the truck.
My eyes see what is coming, my brain showing possible scenarios; I catch up to the moving truck, open the door and my child falls into my arms an instant before the truck goes over the cliff. I catch the moving truck, open the door handle, take my place in the driver’s seat, my foot finding the brake pedal. The five year old opens the door and tumbles out, is crushed under the very large back tires. The truck goes over the bank, she hits the windshield, travels down the hill across the lawn in to the pond and submerges.
Starting the race from behind is such a disadvantage. The driveway seems miles long, the truck unstoppable. The truck keeps rolling. I cannot catch it. I do not call to my daughter, not wanting to interrupt fate…that everything would be fine. No one was going to get hurt. She is safer inside the truck. It is unlikely to flip, it is a heavy Suburban, I remind myself. I can’t catch the truck but am able to think the worst.
Stop running. Watch and see.
Oh yes, now I see the wooden curb barely surfacing at the end of the driveway made from old railroad ties. Placed end to end to form the border where the asphalt driveway ends and the bank begins. The ties were put here for this very purpose, to keep cars from rolling down the hill! Of course. What I thought would be a sturdy timber, now splinters under the front tires. The truck keeps rolling and now the tires creep over the edge.
My breathing is fast, heart pounding. She is still kneeling on the seat, her little hands hanging on to the large steering wheel. Its nose points down the hill, the wheels wrap over the crest of the hillside. I come even with the truck’s front door.
I see willow, hydrangea, spirea, honeysuckle, columbine, cherry, and beyond that green lawn and the tall grasses that surround the pond. I look over the bank and see one small tree. The Hawthorn. She doesn’t look strong enough for the job, but her slender trunk catches the trunk’s bumper and holds fast.
The truck comes to a stop.
I open the car door to take my terrified child in my arms. She wraps herself around me, legs at my waist Koala style. She is clammy and whimpering, but safe.
“You are okay, everything’s fine. Did you think you could drive the car?”
She raises her head from my shoulder and nods.
My husband shows up with our two year old son, having been inside the house retrieving the swim bag before lessons.
“Where were you?” We both ask each other.
Just steps away. It’s easy to point fingers at the other for carelessness, being off duty. Leaving the keys in the car. Me chatting with a neighbor, getting the mail.
Phil handed over our son, got in the truck and put it in 4-wheel drive, reversing it from its precarious perch, until it rested on the asphalt once again. I don’t remember if we went to swimming lessons or not.
Rules were most likely mentioned about never messing with a car. Big truck, little girl. She had only been pretending to drive. Just like she did on Phil’s lap when he let her steer the car in the garage.
Fear can be an effective teacher, but shouldn’t be relied on as the only lesson. If my job was to keep my children safe, I realized that attempts to keep them from harm alone, wasn’t going to do it.
So quick to see the danger in situations, I was avoiding the chance to teach the skills needed to try. I knew I couldn’t keep her within the confines of the protected world I had so lovingly created. Putting it off until later or someday. Driving a car is not something a 5-year old needs to learn, but it would be coming sooner than I was ready.
I needed to teach skills outside of my comfort, and I had been keeping my fear in the way.
But that is what parenting feels like—trying to keep up, although it is always a little out in front of you. Sometimes you need to stop running, and trust that things will be okay.