It’s the text that every parent of a teenage driver dreads:
“Mah, I’m okay, but I’ve had a bit of an accident. The police are with me.”
As I stared at the words on my phone, I blinked and tried to wipe the sleep out of my eyes so that I could process what I was reading. The clock said 6:01 AM, my usual workday wake up time, but my son’s text had come in late the night before, long after I had gone to bed.
He must have been terrified and scared in the aftermath. And, though I took a certain pride in the fact that I was the one he reached out to immediately, I was devastated to realize I’d slept through his first real drama as a new driver.
How had I missed his text?
And then it dawned on me: long ago, I’d set my phone to switch to “Do Not Disturb” at 9 PM to avoid being woken up by the pings and notifications of texts from friends and family in different time zones.
My phone was on the nightstand next to my bed, but it never buzzed on the night of my son’s accident.
What’s worse, there were two missed calls from him right after the accident happened.
Thankfully, my son was fine and his car sustained only minimal damage. He’d lost control of the vehicle and wound up careening into a cornfield about five minutes from our house. Police officers were quick to respond and assess that my son had, in fact, only managed to damage a few ears of corn.
Because my husband has had a habit of staying up late into the night since the quarantine, my son was able to get in touch with him when I didn’t respond. My husband spoke with him via phone and was waiting when our son drove home shortly after. In their infinite wisdom, they decided to wait until morning to tell me about the accident because they both knew I would have been up all night, fraught with “what ifs” had they woken me up. (They weren’t wrong.)
Which is how I came to find my son’s upsetting and unsettling text in the early morning hours.
As I processed the fact that my son had an accident and wasn’t able to get in touch with me, I started to cry from the guilt of being so selfish with regards to my phone notifications. And I was embarrassed, too. It never occurred to me to change my phone notifications once our son started driving last year.
But, that’s how parenting teens goes, especially the first time around.
Until you are faced with certain situations, it doesn’t occur to you that your routines may have to change. Admittedly, I’ve had a certain smug bravado that our son is an excellent driver. I wanted to believe that he would always be safe and never be in a life-threatening situation on the road.
Oh, how the mighty come crashing down, right?
My son’s accident has been a wake up call for all of us.
He’s learned that one false move behind the wheel could have devastating consequences. This experience has also been a reminder to leave extra time when heading home from a friend’s house late at night so he doesn’t have to rush. And we’ve made sure he knows we will never punish him for being a few minutes late, because we want him to arrive safe and sound.
I’ve learned some things, too. Though my son has assured me, repeatedly, that he didn’t panic when he couldn’t reach me, I still feel the guilt deeply. And that mom guilt made me consider my other evening habits a little more closely too.
That glass (or two) of wine with a good book seems a little less enticing when I realize I might be called to action, whether to help my teen with a flat tire or to rush to an accident scene. I never want to be too impaired to help him or one of his friends in an emergency.
And, though I know my son is a good driver, I’ve made it a habit of trying to stay up (or dozing on the couch) until he gets home.
I admit, since his accident, I haven’t been able to fall into a deep sleep until he walks in the door.
They say that the day you watch your new teen driver pull out of the driveway is one of the hardest days as a parent. But, for me, it was realizing that I let him down when he needed me the most.
When you know better, you do better. That’s what I’m telling myself these days. I have made changes to my routine in the hopes that I can be more present and prepared for this different phase of parenting. So the next time my son calls me late at night, I’ll be ready. And hopefully my friends on the west coast will understand when I ask them to keep their texts to a minimum after 9 PM.