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Challenge: Parent Fails

The Story That Started It All

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(originally published on Trying My Breast on July 17, 2018)

Do you ever have those days that start off so terribly that you just want to return home and go back to bed? Same. This is a story about one of those days.

I live in Golden, Colorado, a little ways up a small mountain with a large M at the top. Our neighborhood lies just west of the intersection between 19th Street and CO 6th, two of the town’s major thoroughfares. While these roads used to meet at a predictable stoplight-style intersection, Golden recently completed construction on a massive traffic project that sent 19th over 6th via a hedonic overpass that features a bike trail, several park benches, a pagoda-type apparatus, and several million dollars of property-tax-funded soil and “native plants” that are struggling impressively through the blazing Colorado summer. (I think the average UV index for the past month has been around 9.) The overpass is a marvel of civil engineering and yet requires the equivalent of an associate’s degree to navigate safely. (If you search for this intersection on Google Maps, you’ll see what I’m talking about.) And this is where our story begins.

The most exciting feature of this structure, in my opinion, is not “GOLDEN” spelled out in illuminated characters, or the near-constant presence of workers (gardeners? loiterers?) on the completed bridge, or even the preceding crosswalk in which I narrowly avoid hitting collegiate pedestrians on a daily basis — rather, my favorite feature is the Y-shaped traffic configuration that has introduced a Frogger-style game of luck and chance into the drive out of my neighborhood. Picture this: to drive east into Golden, I need to cross a continuous line of westbound traffic. Each car can either continue driving west (passing safely to my left) or bear south for CO 6th. The latter option provides me with invigorating opportunities to either T-bone (bad) or be T-boned (worse). What makes this endeavor even more stimulating is the unspoken boycott of turn signals for this intersection, turning my daily drive into a roulette of “will they or won’t they” as opportunities to cross flit by faster than the unlit blinkers on passing cars.

Some people are good at this game. I am not.

The sad, silver Honda Accord (a 2003, I later found out — foreshadowing) pulled up to the stop sign just in front of me. The license plate caught my eye — it was an indiscernible jumble of letters starting with “CSM” (Colorado School of Mines). Considering my five-year-long relationship with the school, I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t untangle the cyphered vanity plate. The Accord rolled forward, so I eased my foot off the clutch, briefly glanced down toward my passenger seat to make sure I had my phone with me, and slowly, slowly… rear-ended the car in front of me.

You see, the other driver was also not good at the 6th and 19th game. She had made a bid to go, then chickened out at the last second, whereupon I totaled her car at walking speed.

Let me be clear. I was at fault here. It’s pretty cut and dry. HOWEVER, there is a strong possibility that my Monday morning would have started off less, well, Monday-esque, had it been a different driver in front of me that day.

The Accord remained frozen in front of me, our cars surely still touching in a less-than-intimate embrace and the driver’s door sealed shut in what could have only been scared-rabbit panic. (We have a bunny. It’s a pretty distinctive expression.) Realizing that this situation was going nowhere without a little push, I hopped out of my SUV, ran slightly less than one car-length to the Accord’s driver-side window, and addressed the hyperventi-lating youth before me.

“Where do you want to meet?” I barked in what I hoped was a polite tone.

“Um, the parking lots to the right up there!” she indicated.

We then proceeded — ironically, without pause or incident — through the treacherous intersection and parked in CSM’s Ford Lot, where we got out of our respective cars — her, noticeably quaking, and me, embarrassingly calm. (Side note: I also was noticeably quaking the first time I got into an accident — although that time was also my fault. I was probably shaken my second and third times too, and maybe even after that. However, you get used to anything with enough repetition… and apparently I have hit my quota for “minor traffic collisions”. PSA: I am a bad driver. Please come get me if we’re ever hanging out.)

Since this shaven-head, rainbow-haired baby nineteen-year-old was clearly the victim here, I asked if she wanted to file a police report. I explained that since no one was hurt, both cars were drivable, and police reports are not mandatory in Colorado, we could simply exchange information and file insurance claims. This option came with the benefit of getting this girl to Probability and Statistics class on time — thirty minutes in the future.

(Side note: Who on earth shows up to summer class literally a half-hour early? Ah yes, baby Mines students! Ironically, if she had arrived in Golden at a more reasonable time, we would have passed like ships in the night, and she would have, in fact, been on time to class. As it happened, she was not.)

The girl listened to my explanation, then confidently replied, “Um, I’m going to call to ask my dad.” A brief murmured conversation ensued while I took pictures of our cars, hoping somehow that my proactivity could influence the impending pronouncement. (Note: It couldn’t.)

“My dad said to call the police,” she promptly declared once she got off the phone. Great.

Her arms dangling uselessly at her sides, the girl stared at me hopefully, as if I happened to have the police with me and they might, at any moment, appear from the backseat that was now reverberating with the cries of my five-month-old. As I tried to extricate Bo from his carseat with one hand (an impossible task), I Googled the Golden Police number and called for an officer.

“Thank you!” the girl effused once I got off the phone, clearly grateful that she didn’t have to call 911 (which I am pretty confident was the only option she had considered for our very non-emergent situation). I finally succeeding in removing my son from his carseat, and we settled down to wait for either the girl to stop shaking or the police to arrive.

Let’s take this opportunity to circle back around to my reason for leaving the house. I have a friend who is going to Drexel this coming fall, and we were planning to meet at Starbucks — probably the last time I’ll see him before he starts grad school. Since having Borealis, I’ve run about five minutes late to everything. In fact, it was at exactly 9:00am (our intended meeting time) that I tortoise-speed rammed the Honda. After retrieving my son, I texted my friend to let him know that I would be quite a bit later than expected.

The Mines police showed up, realized the site of the accident (though not our current location) was actually under City of Golden jurisdiction, and called for a city officer to join the scene. So that is how I ended up nursing my son in the backseat of my car as I waited for two officers to finish lackadaisically filling out the information exchange forms.

“Man, what a way to start off a Monday!” one said as he tore off a copy. The officers cleared the girl to go, and she was only about five minutes late for her class in the end. So much for being early

Once she left, I calmly accepted my copy of the form, at which point the Golden officer said, “I won’t give you a ticket for this,” gesturing to my front fender. I looked at the barely-perceptible dent, then realized what he had said.

“Thank you. Thank you so much!” I said, my voice instantly choked with tears. “That was what I was most worried about. I was going to have to go to court, and find childcare for him, and…” I trailed off as he handed me the case number on a business card.

“Well, it would have just been a fine you could pay by mail, but I’m glad to have improved your day. I hope it gets better!” And with that, both officers returned to their cruisers, and I was left to find the case number, which I had lost immediately upon receiving it. Since I was already crying, I decided to ramp the discomfort up a notch and call my husband too.

“Babe I just got in an accident,” I said as I crouched to look beneath my car (although through my blubbering, it probably sounded like “babe I juggled an ice pick”).

Fluent in cry-speak, my husband asked, “Is everyone ok?”

“Yes, but I’m so sorry and sad because this is a new car and WHERE IS THIS FRICKING CASE NUMBER!?”

“Babe. Calm down.”

Crying in earnest at this point, I completed the search of my car and started circling the area in ever-widening loops. The card turned up nearly fifteen feet from my car. (I forgot to mention that Golden is conveniently located in a topological wind tunnel.)

“The important thing is that no one was hurt. God is good, even in this.”

“I know, He is,” I conceded grudgingly.

“It’s alright, sweetie,” my wonderful husband concluded. “These things happen.” Especially to you, he thought loudly.

I gathered up what remained of my dignity and drove — very carefully — down to the Starbucks, where my former co-TA (let’s call him William) waited patiently at a completely empty table. As in, also empty of the obligatory coffee shop drink. You know, basically the equivalent of the bag of chips most everyone buys to justify the use of a gas station bathroom? Well, my good friend was — is — not like most everyone. So while I chatted it up with the police that morning, William sat for three-quarters of an hour without the social license that lets strangers know you’re not just a serial killer casing the joint. I mean, I know he was being polite by waiting for my inauspicious arrival, but I think he probably triggered a minimum of three concerned calls to the Golden PD.

I scurried into the Starbs in a haze of apologies and baby spit-up, so basically it was business as usual. We ordered and received our drinks, then settled in for what I was hopeful would be a pleasant, unmemorable social call.

No such luck.

I was probably thirty percent through recounting the story above when my son decided to express his disgust with the minor part he had played thus far. With the determination and dexterity of a major league baseball star, my feisty five-month-old batted my nearly-full tall Ultra Caramel Frappucino off our high top table and into the great beyond. Reminiscent of a geosynchronous satellite on its maiden voyage, my erstwhile breakfast gracefully traced out an arc that would have made any ninth-grade Geometry student proud. And the landing? Well, all I can say is that it’s a good thing we weren’t at the airport, because the ensuing coffee-caramel-whipped-cream bomb would have been a TSA incident for sure.

“Taylor!” I shouted out of habit. Regardless of the problem, my husband’s name is my go-to call for help / blame assignation / curse word.

A traffic jam instantly appeared as the entrance to the line became a slip-n-slide.

And there I was in the middle of it, clutching my child as I frantically searched for napkins, forgetting in my panic that they’re located by the cream and sugar. (In fact, they’re *always* by the cream and sugar. In literally thousands of Starbucks across the globe.) William apparently also forgot this fact, because he rushed to the back of the store (where, presumably, there were more napkins). I, on the other hand, did the next most logical thing and went to beg a mop of the barista.

“My baby! The floor! Ultra caramel! Can I borrow the mop?” Oh yeah, I forgot to say that I was already crying again.

“What?” the barista answered.

I took a deep breath and tried again. “My baby knocked over my drink and it spilled all over the floor. Can I borrow the mop?”

“Oh my gosh do you need a hug?”

It bears mentioning that while now calmer, I was still crying. I apparently looked quite pathetic. I nodded silently to accept the hug from this sweet stranger. My baby, of course, grabbed her hair.

William reappeared at this point, clutching maybe a tenth of the required napkins. Perhaps there was a shortage in the back. The sight of so few napkins sparked my memory, and I rushed through the disgruntled Starbucks customers to the font of all napkins at the front of the store. Clutching a fistful, I crouched to clean the mess while trying to keep Bo out of reach of the floor. I must have looked like some bizarre distortion of that famous discus statue (The Townley Discobolus, I just determined), as if this were just another step on the road to the Infant-Slinging Championships.

“Do you want me to hold your baby?” someone asked.

I rose and spun around. A kind-looking, forty-something-year-old woman stood right behind me, possibly because she was unable to get past me into the ordering line. Beside her stood two blonde, seemingly well-adjusted young teenage boys. If 12+ years with this woman didn’t ruin them, then five minutes with her wouldn’t ruin my son either. I handed Bo over and went back to earnestly trying to soak up the sticky coffee mess with a plethora of surprisingly nonabsorbent napkins.

William, true to his loyal golden retriever personality, was right there on the floor beside me — this time, with more napkins. “Just think: you made everyone’s day more exciting!” he effused with the pep of a JV cheerleader. “When anyone asks how their day went, they can say, ‘Well, the floor was lava, so it was pretty much all uphill from there!’ I keep expecting at any moment for someone to bypass us by parkouring over the Veranda blend!”

I laughed despite the situation — or, I suppose, because of it. “You know,” I responded, “I’m crying before noon on a Monday. I feel like I’m back in college.” Mines was not an emotionally healthy place for me.

The frappucino was more or less in the garbage by the time the manager arrived with a mop. I must have still looked pathetic, because she gave me a hug almost before even asking if I needed one. “Hey! This is all going to be ok!” she said assertively. I considered explaining that normally, a situation like this wouldn’t faze me, but decided that the story was too long and settled instead for a hiccupy breath in, followed by, “It’s been a bit of a morning so far.”

With amazing customer service, the manager grasped my shoulders and said, “Hey! This is my store and my team. We are going to take care of you.”

And they did. I retrieved my baby as, with impressive alacrity, the manager mopped up the rest of the nuclear fallout and the barista made me a venti replacement frappucino (at the insistence of the manager and against my express wishes). I was able to consume maybe a fifth of the drink in that sitting (and in fact, the remainder of it is still in my freezer, waiting to be partially thawed and blended once more).

With the entire Starbucks smelling vaguely of a caramel / cleaning solution blend, and with $7 of unearned sugar explosion in hand, I decided it was about time for us to make our exit. There was just one problem: I didn’t want to drive home.

“I’ll drive!” William volunteered enthusiastically. “I love driving manual!”

Thankfully, the ride back to my house — in my own car — was uneventful. William, who lived uphill from Starbucks, now started down Mount Zion, somehow managing to walk to and from our coffee date, downhill both ways. I guess things really *were* tougher back in the day.

Grabbing the carseat, I plodded inside at a trudge — both because the events of the morning had me feeling utterly defeated, and because it’s impossible to move by any means other than trudging while carrying a carseat. I called my oldest confidante and my most trusted advisor: my mother. After relating the above story in all its ugly glory, I concluded with, “And I’m really sorry I dinged up the car, since you guys paid for such a big portion of it, and apparently I treat all gifts badly.”

Always cool under fire, my mother replied, “You know what I think? You should write a blog. You’re hilarious, and I think people will really connect to your stories and your voice.”

So, dear reader, that is what I did. It is up to you to judge whether I am, in fact, relatable and hilarious. (I believe most of the individuals described in the above saga would vote no and assert that I am actually a very frenetic and unrelatable force of nature.) If you appreciated this tale and would like to read more instances from my strange life, please explore more of this blog and feel free to comment below. If you did not appreciate this story, please keep it to yourself. 😉

Tim Hawkins released a parody that follows my own Starbucks journey a little too closely for my liking. I invite you to listen to it here: Sounds of Starbucks.

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