After a rushed morning, getting my young boys out the door to a function I needed to attend, I pulled into the event parking lot a bit flustered. While thinking about what I had to do to get ready for this event, I heard a bang. I swung around in my seat to see that my son had opened his car door with too much “oomph,” and had hit the vehicle next to us.
For the first time in my parenting life, I said a swear word, which I had been trying so hard not to do in front of them. Actually, I said it a few times. My children both got very quiet. It took all I had to not freak out! There was so much I wanted to say and do but I forced myself to just stop talking. I’ve coached other parents to calm first, talk second, and I had to make myself listen to my own words (which was really hard!).
I walked around to my son’s side of the car to discover that our red door had left quite a substantial ding in the new white SUV’s front quarter panel. I stared at the dent until my mind reminded me that I was late, along with the thought: this is going to cost us some serious money. More importantly, I was afraid someone was going to come running out and yell at me! This was certainly fodder for a big reaction from an angry person.
I told the boys to get back in the car while I quickly wrote out a note for the driver of the other vehicle. They started asking lots of questions, but I said, “Please be quiet right now. I’m very angry. I need to write this note and calm down.” Fuming, I carefully wrote out an apology, leaving my name, phone number, and email address. I put the paper under the SUV’s driver side windshield wiper. I really did want to get the heck out of there! I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to leave my car right beside that one, but decided it was the best thing to do.
I walked straight over to my young son who looked very worried. I said, “Sweetie. You made a mistake that might cost us some money. I know you didn’t mean to bang that vehicle. Let’s all make sure we are very slow when we open car doors.”
My son whispered, “Mommy. I’m so sorry.”
“I love you and I forgive you. We all make mistakes.” As we quickly walked away from the car, I remember thinking that I needed to explain what I had done. I said, “Guys, we could have moved the car and not put a note under their windshield. How do you think they would have felt when they came out to discover this dent?” Both boys agreed that the other vehicle owner would have felt mad and sad. “It was our ding so it is our responsibility to take the yucky feelings and consequences—not them. We have to do what is right… to leave a note… even though that might cost us money and cause someone to get really angry with us.”
They smiled at me and my young son jumped in front of me to give me a big hug. I could feel a huge crease in my brow, so I wiggled my shoulders out and said, “Let’s carry on bravely. We can handle this.” I said this but I was feeling pretty down and quite scared.
As we came back out of the event later that morning, I noticed that the white SUV was gone. There wasn’t an angry note on my windshield or a loud message on my phone. I braced myself: expecting to hear from them shortly.
Days, then two weeks passed until one day I saw an email with “White Buick” in the subject line. I was afraid to open it! I began reading the note, holding my breath.
Here are the words that were in the email:
Sorry for the late response. I would like thank you for leaving the note on my truck. Not many people nowadays acknowledge opening a car door on someone else’s vehicle. By my late response I'm not too worried about it. I work at a body shop anyways.
Thank you again for being honest.
I got to the end of the note with tears flooding my eyes. My sons saw this and ran over to me, “Mommy, what’s wrong?” I showed them the email. My older son could read it: he smiled, hugged me, then returned to his piano playing. My younger son asked me to read it to him, which I did. His eyes got so huge—I won’t forget the beautiful look on his face. He gave me the biggest hug.
I whispered to him, “This might not always happen, but it is so important to be honest. This lady gave us a huge gift. I’m so thankful.”
He smiled and said, “Me, too!”
I was able to reply to the email sharing our gratitude (I have tears in my eyes even as I write this). I hope the woman who sent this note knows how much her generosity of spirit means to us. This was a beautiful act of kindness. There are so many reports of bad things happening in the news; it was good to be reminded of how amazing and wonderful people can be.
I believe it is so important to use these experiences as teachable moments for our children. When my kiddos and I got home, I talked with them more about how scared I was to leave my name and contact information for the other driver because I didn’t know how that person would react. We chatted about front brain and back-brain stuff and what I did to get my actions under control so I didn’t make things worse. We also talked about what to do if this person called to yell at me (validate their feelings but also remind them I wanted to correct our mistake and yelling wasn’t necessary.) There were certainly many ways this could have turned out so I’m very pleased it happened the way it did. Have you had a similar "teachable moment" with your children? I'd love to hear about it: please do post a comment here or over on my Facebook page.