“Parents, someone hit me!” Michelle announced noisily as she came in the house from the garage with a couple of shopping bags in hand. It was last Sunday after dinner.
“Who hit you? Where?”
“A lady bumped into my car, in the mall!”

I didn’t panic. The fact that Michelle was home in one piece could only be indicative of something very minor. I got out of the kitchen only to get a glimpse of her back moving towards the study room where Joe was sitting behind the computer. For some reasons, whenever our daughters are having car troubles, they go straight to their dad. But they come to me when they need money. So I returned to the kitchen to finish the cleanup, keeping my ears open the whole time.

Occasionally, Michelle raised her voice, “Dad, it’s not my fault. She hit me!” and then “Okay, I’m never going to the mall again!”

After about twenty minutes, Joe came to the kitchen with a faint smile, shaking his head hopelessly.
“This is the second parking lot accident in the last three months. I just can’t believe it!”
“So what happened?”
“She was getting out of the parking lot when a lady backed out suddenly and ran into Michelle.”
“It doesn’t sound like it was Michelle’s fault.”
“That’s true. But she still has to learn to slow down or honk if she can’t stop in time.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“Michelle did take that lady’s insurance information. I’ll have to call them tomorrow.”

Joe handled the situation the same way he had done many times before. After Michelle calmed down, he re-emphasized to her the importance of being slow and alert in the parking lot.
“Michelle, you may not like to hear what I have to say. But I say it because I love you. I want you to be safe. Do you understand? I’ll take care of this thing. Just like last time, the insurance company will call you to get a statement.”
“I know dad. Thank you!”

Joe provided the insurance company with a detailed description of the accident along with computer-generated pictures indicating the location and the positions of the cars when they collided. The agent was very impressed, “I wish all our customers could be so clear and specific!”

With two teens driving, this of course wasn’t the first crash we had to deal with. There was a period in Jane’s life when she didn’t feel like talking to Joe and me because we didn’t understand anything. So every time her name popped up on my cell phone screen, I immediately feared that something bad had happened. My heart would pound like crazy before I even picked up the call. Luckily, Jane always called her dad when in desperate need of help. In her high school senior year, she drove a couple of her friends to lunch and bumped into someone else’s car in the parking lot of Wendy’s. She didn’t know whose car it was and so she and her friends just went into the restaurant. The owner of the car called the police later and Jane called Joe. It was a freezing cold day. Joe had to stand in the parking lot trying to convince the cop that it wasn’t a hit-and-run case because Jane stayed on the premise of the accident. It was her first accident and therefore our daughter just didn’t know how to handle the situation. The cop showed a little empathy at the end of the long conversation.

I didn’t find out about the collision until weeks later when the insurance agent called our home phone asking to talk to Jane about the accident. Joe and Jane had agreed not to burden me with the unpleasant truth.

The worst call came on the day of Jane’s high school graduation ceremony. She had to leave for school an hour and a half before the ceremony to get ready. Barely ten minutes after she was gone, the phone rang and this time I picked it up. On the other end, Jane was crying hysterically. I could barely make out what she was saying except that she had been involved in a bad car accident.

Joe, Michelle, Jake and I piled into the car and took off frantically. We didn’t have to go far to find out where the accident took place. It was a multi-vehicle collision in front of a traffic light, Jane’s car was the fourth in line and there was another one behind hers. Jane’s blue Chevy Malibu was pushed in from both ends and she was standing by the car sobbing. Joe parked our car by the apartment building on the left side of the road and walked over the scene. There were a couple of women standing by. I got out of the car and asked them if they had seen anything.
“We just heard very loud bangs from our apartment and came out to see what happened.”

Soon the district superintendent arrived at the scene and asked Jane if she was injured. Jane shook her head. He offered to take Jane to the ceremony. “Don’t worry. You won’t be late. The ceremony won’t start without me.” He said jokingly to our daughter in distraught.

We all made it to the graduation ceremony. It was a memorable day, to say the least. Luckily even though Jane’s car was totaled, she survived the accident unscraped.

Parents don’t really stop worrying about their kids. The level of anxiety sometimes elevates to unbearable levels when our teens start driving. It is undoubtedly a trying time for parents. Now that I think about it, there can be many reasons why Joe chose not to share with me Jane’s parking lot accident. Without any sugar coating, I think the naked truth has to be I was more of a problem complicator than a problem solver. Both Joe and Jane weren’t sure how I’d react or overreact. Joe may be very capable of managing the accident professionally, but coping with my emotions could be trickier.

I hope over the years I have grown enough to win my family’s trust. I may choose to stand on the sideline and let Joe apply his signature strengths in sticky situations, but I prefer not to be kept in the dark. We are a family and families are supposed to stand together in good and bad times. Jane has phoned me a couple of times since she went to college and both times she started with “Mom, what I am going to tell you isn’t good. But I don’t want to hide anything from you. I am sorry but I promise it will never happen again.”

I think we as a family are making progress!