What Happened When A Stranger Told Me To 'Slow Down'
After 42 minutes of my kids dragging their feet, whining about school, running back in the house for forgotten lunches, homework, sweatshirts and who knows what, I knew we were going to be late. Again. Keys in hand, anxiety rising, I sat rigidly in the driver’s seat waiting for the last one to tumble into the car. Teeth clenched, I backed wordlessly out of the driveway.
I have three kids and two school drop offs. If we leave the house even a minute late, we’re screwed. And by “we,” I mean “me.” Yes, my kids endure the embarrassment of carrying a tardy slip to class, but once they hand it to the teacher and settle into their seats, it’s done with.
For me, though, being late means something’s gotta give: I give up being on time to the doctor or to meet a friend. I give up being on time to a meeting with a potential project partner. I give up exercise because I can’t make it to the class on time. My otherwise carefully plotted, to the wire schedule is thrown off just enough to keep me rushing around the rest of the day.
I operate on tight margins. Don’t we all?
So when the white SUV pulled out in front of me on the winding residential street and proceeded to go well below the 25 mph speed limit, I kind of lost it. With the kids in the car, I managed to keep my cussing in check and instead banged on the steering wheel while semi-shouting in a not-nice voice, “What is going on with this guy?! Why is he driving so slowly? He is making us LATE!”
I flashed my high beams at him and did that passive-aggressive stop/start driving (I know, so rude). After a minute or two of this, he finally pulled over and I made the mistake of thinking he was graciously letting me pass him. Yeah, no.
Instead, he opened his door and started walking towards my car, forcing me to stop too. He’s somewhere in his early 60s, dressed in weekend clothes even though it’s a Tuesday. He is not at all happy.
What do you do when an irate driver gets out of his car to confront you? When the guy tapped on my window, a scowl on his face, I felt the adrenaline and indignation kick in. Who did this guy — obviously out for a leisure drive — think he was? Didn’t he see the posted speed limit? Whatever he had to say, I was prepared to throw it right back at him.
I took a deep breath, put on my best resting bitch face, and rolled down my window.
“What are you in such a hurry for?” he yelled in my face. “You’re driving way too closely! You need to slow down!”
Those last five words landed in my lap with a thud.
You need to slow down.
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. I wanted to defend myself, yell right back at him that he was driving way too slowly, dangerously slowly, considering that he’d pulled into moving traffic. But I couldn’t. Because I knew he was right.
From the moment I wake up, I feel like I’m falling behind. So much feels like it’s out of my control – how quickly the girls will get ready, what kind of mood they’ll be in and, sometimes, how I’ll react. I rush around the house, tense and demanding, desperately trying to capture lost time. Most mornings end up with yelling or crying or both. Most mornings my heart is tight, my brow furrowed and my smile stingy.
You need to slow down.
All day, I buzz from one place to another, hunting and gathering, prepping and working, jamming just one more phone call or errand in before picking up my kids, starting dinner, and overseeing homework and bedtime routines. This is the job, I tell myself. This fast-paced busyness is part of motherhood and I’ll be damned if I’m not doing the best possible job.
The problem is, I can’t sustain this version of motherhood anymore. It’s exhausting. It’s sad. It’s making me mean.
You need to slow down.
When this strange man’s words floated through my open window, everything, blessedly, slowed down and when it did, I started to cry. Not ugly cry, but enough that I kept my sunglasses on. I swallowed hard. I wasn’t going anywhere and it was a relief.
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m running late and that isn’t fair to you. I’m sorry.”
And I truly was. I was sorry I’d rattled him and made him angry. I was sorry for all the mornings I yelled at my kids and stressed them out. I was sorry I’d let busyness become more important than just being. Mostly I was sorry for myself, for not noticing how much I was missing in my rush to do all the things, for not taking care of myself in these demanding days of motherhood.
The man stood there with his arms crossed clearly unsure of what to make of me. I waited.
“Just take your time,” he said finally, his voice just a little softer than before. Then he walked quickly to his idling car and drove off.
I sat still for a moment, my heart pounding, tears streaming.
“Is that man mad at you, Mommy?” asked my youngest daughter from her booster seat.
“Not really,” I lied. “He was just frustrated because I was driving too close to him when I shouldn’t have.”
“Are we going to be late?” she asked.
“Yep, we are for sure going to be late,” I said. “Good thing we’re not really in a hurry anymore.”
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