Monday morning school drop-off: I turn down a narrow, heavily trafficked Uptown street
pockmarked with construction, searching for a spot to pull over to deposit my son at middle school. The only spot available is wedged between a driveway and another parked car, but it looks like my Honda Odyssey should fit. As I start to pull over, I hear a crunch.
“You hit a car!”
The parked car I thought I could squeeze my minivan in front of is also a minivan like mine. My tired eyes look through the rearview to see another tired mom behind the wheel. My middle schooler buries his face in his hands.
I grab my phone, get out of the car, and walk over to hers. She rolls down her window and smiles.
I start to explain how sorry I am, how I thought I could squeeze my minivan in, how it’s totally my fault.
“It’s ok,” she says, as she zips up her hoodie and gets out. I notice she’s wearing pajama pants and crocs, clothes I’d gladly be wearing if I didn’t also have to get to school and teach third grade.
She looks at her front bumper. It’s hanging off a bit and definitely scratched. She nonchalantly pops the bumper back on and shrugs.
“It’s honestly not that bad. It already had scratches on it.”
(I’m certain many of those scratches are from me.)
“Would you like my insurance info? I can pull it up on my phone,” I offer.
She shrugs again and gets back in her minivan. I notice she also has two children, hers older than mine.
“Why don’t you give me your cell phone number? I’ll just contact you if I need more info.”
Inside I’m thinking, really?! That’s it?! You’re not going to scream at me, harass me, or threaten to call the school? She didn’t even take pictures! The anxiety butterflies in my stomach are having a party.
I run back to my minivan, grab a pen, and rip off a piece of the cardboard face mask box I keep in the car.
I write my full name and cell number down and trot to her minivan as the carpool line snakes by.
“Thank you for being so cool about this!” I exclaim a little too excitedly as I hand her the card.
She smiles. “With everything else that’s going on, it’s really no big deal.”
Her words hang in the air as I give a quick wave. “I’m a teacher at the elementary, so you know where to find me!”
I sprint back to my minivan before she has a chance to change her mind and start interrogating me. My son rolls his eyes and gets out of the car without saying goodbye and joins the onslaught of tired pre-teens shuffling off to school.
Several weeks have passed and Minivan Mom still hasn’t called. She also hasn’t emailed or posted anything disparaging on social media. She simply let it go.
Here’s the thank you note I would send her if I could (I never got her contact info or name):
Dear “Minivan Mom,”
From one harried mother to another, I thank you. Your little action made a huge difference in my hectic morning. You did not make my blood pressure skyrocket or compel me to curse in front of my kids. In fact, I went into my classroom a few minutes later that day and felt calm. I even felt like laughing. I never feel like that on Monday! Your decency was liberating.
Uptown carpooling is not for the faint of heart. With all of the construction going on,
navigating the ripped-up, potholed streets feels like an endless daily game of whack-a-mole. My coffee spills nearly every morning, even with a lid on. Naturally, carpool and parking tensions are at an all-time high. I’ve had school neighbors leave angry notes on my car for parking partially on the curb (to avoid being sideswiped): “Don’t park like this again.” I’ve also received my fair share of unfair parking tickets (and yes, some deserved), and I even had someone warn me they’d tow my car if I was within a few feet of their driveway.
So this Minivan Mom’s simple gesture of grace was (and is) a big deal in my world.
But why can’t more of us be like her? Would I have been as kind as her in the same situation?
A few days later, my husband and I got a chance to try.
We visited the Houston Space Center during Mardi Gras break and were pulling out of our spot in the parking lot. My husband braked when he saw a car across from us also pulling out, but that driver didn’t stop.
“Not again!” the kids groaned.
My husband and I both got out to assess the damage. The man was excessively apologetic and explained he was driving a rental with his son, who was staring at his phone in the passenger seat. Not unlike our son in the backseat.
But unlike Monday Minivan Mom, we got his insurance information, took pictures of our car and his, and assured him we’d be in touch.
But it honestly wasn’t too bad. It was just a few scratches. And his car was worse.
Minivan Mom’s words echoed through my head: “With everything else that’s going on, it’s really no big deal.”
So we’ve done nothing.
Taking cues from a fellow mom who had so nonchalantly brightened my Monday the week before just felt right– like karma had made things come full circle. And, as long as I continue to drive and park Uptown, I’m sure I’ll continue to acquire more scratches– some my fault, some not.
So many of us are going through our daily motions on a short fuse, ready to snap at a moment’s notice. Our stress levels have been exhausted by the past few years, an endless cycle of Covid pandemic worries, racial tensions, troubling politics, and a local rise in crime. Little gestures of kindness in what could be yet another stressful situation– such as a car wreck– can give the kind of peace that’s priceless.
Am I telling you to drive recklessly or dismiss a driver who does more serious damage? Absolutely not. But if you find yourself in a situation that’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, why not give a little gift and simply let it go. Besides giving the other party some peace, I think you’ll find it brings you some of your own.