Christmas Fingers

Something is happening.  Or something has broken.  Because my filter which once seemed to be firmly in place is slipping.  I find myself filling with righteous irritability at small things.   And instead of shrugging these small things off, I am, at times, guilty of doing or saying something which would be better left unsaid or ‘undid’.  To date, the following are just a few examples of things which have slipped through my once un-bustable filter :
  1. tailgaters (not the parking lot kind, at least not yet)
  2. people who make stupid, one-sided, small-minded statements which get picked up by the news cycle or posted on Facebook
  3. packages intended to arrive on a Friday because you paid high dollar for it but get inexplicably delayed until Monday
  4. the Sound of Music live television event - I mean, you have an amazing voice Carrie and Vampire Bill is so sexy as the undead, but together, it was just, well, uncomfortable 
  5. Philip Rivers 
I'm only going to address the first one today - tailgaters.  Because this incident directly affected my children's everlasting perception of me.  And Philip Rivers gets a mention here too, but it's really nothing personal, Rivers.  You just play against the Broncos and announcers really love to talk about you.  And you are directly responsible (kinda) for further aggravating an already tender image of me held by my oldest. 

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and we headed deep into the forest of Colorado to hunt down the Most Perfect Christmas Tree Ever.  While that was certainly an unattainable goal, we did have cheery cold and snowy fun finding a tree with enough branches to hang ornaments.  It was a good day.

And then we headed home.

To get home, we have to travel along 285 -  a highway best known for fast traffic, windswept, icy roads, accidents and a high frequency of closure.  But on this day we drove under a huge, beautiful, deep blue sky and watched as the low sun turned the highest mountain peaks into pink frosted tips.  Seriously a postcard moment.


I casually glance in the passenger side mirror only to see every, single, itty-bitty, gritty, detail of the bug-smattered grill on a semi.  Desperately hoping that Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, I turn around to get an accurate depth perception view.  

But no.  Objects In Mirror Were Completely Accurate.   The back windshield of Sean's beloved 220,000 mile Toyota 4Runner is filled with the semi's front end.  Not even the fading daylight of our lovely afternoon can filter in around the truck.  The truck which appears to be prepared to eat us.

I drag my eyes away from the semi and focus on the red-cheeked smiles of my three kids as they sit in various states of tree-success contentment.  

And my blood begins to boil.  

Now, I have the ability within me to channel patience.  It may not be my own patience I channel, but I can dig it up somewhere and use it when I most need it.   But not, apparently, with stupid, careless drivers of ginormous semis.  

Blood boiling, I look at Sean's speed.  Perhaps he is driving 30 miles under the speed limit.  Because surely, this semi driver cannot be so completely ignorant of the danger he is putting our kids in with his proximity to our 4Runner's rear end.  Like, mortal danger.  Duh.

But no, Sean is going the 65 mph speed limit on this two lane highway.  The driver obviously wants to pass but with a long line of cars shooting by us on the other side, he doesn't have an opportunity yet. Instead of backing off like a normal person until he has his shot, he rides us like a big jerk.  For 1.5 miles.  At 65 miles an hour.  In vanishing daylight.

I am not channeling patience.  I am channeling pure, unadulterated, righteous, anger.  I can feel it in the tips of my ears and the ends of my hair.  This anger is fueled by thoughts and images of my kids if Sean has to step on the brake for any reason at all.  Even a light tap will surely injure the kids but if we have to slam on the brakes...the entire Payne family will be moving on up.

Can the guy not see this inevitability in his haste to pass us?  Or is he on a super secret mission to save the planet and we just happen to be the Yeoman Johnsons in the way? 

All I know is that my mama bear instinct is fueling this boiling, hot rage.  I'm pretty sure my eyes have turned red and I've developed claws.  Finally, there is a break in the oncoming cars and the semi driver jumps on his chance to pass.  

First I feel the briefest sense of relief.  My kids are out of danger.  But next I feel an opportunity.  I sense it as the rig fills our left-side windows.  A chance to make a difference.  To perhaps influence the guy to do the right thing in his future travels.  I could use words to persuade.  But I don't have words right now.  All I have are gestures.  And two of them.

So as the semi pulls up alongside, there is a moment where he and I lock eyes.  My filter disintegrates, a sense of righteous anger fuels me on, and with a tunnel-like focus on the beady eyes of the driver, I find myself lifting both of my hands and valiantly extending my two gloriously middle fingers into the age-old gesture meant for situations just like this

And I don't just lift them once.  I accompany my fingers with a nah-nah-nah-nah sound and pump my fists repeatedly at the driver.  Point made.  Semi finally passes us and now moves speedily ahead.  My anger rapidly fades.  My heart beat slows.  My head falls back, I sigh and say, "Whew. That felt good."

In my quest to make a point, I have forgotten one very important detail. 

My.  Kids.  Are.  In.  The.  Car.

Groaning, abashed and utterly unsure of what I will find when I turn around, I pause for just a minute.  Then with a smile plastered to my face I look behind me.  Gone are the victory grins from finding our Christmas tree.  Instead, each little face mirrors back the horror that I now feel.  Mouths hang open in astonishment at what little eyes just witnessed.  They look at me differently.  Unsure of who their mother has become.

Ella is the first to speak.

"Mommy, why did you just flip that guy the birds?"

"Well, honey, uhm.  Mommy lost her patience and I..."

Keira interrupted with an accusing, "And you said it made you feel good."

"Oh, that, well, I just acted on anger and it was a terrible example.  Your father was very patient and did the right thing by keeping his cool..." I trail off, unsure of how to move forward.  Their eyes reflect their disappointment.  

Sawyer points his index fingers at me and says, "Is this what you were doing, Mommy?"

Ella's hand flies across and slaps Sawyer's fingers down.  "Sawyer!  No!  Don't do it!  It's bad!  Bad!"

They all look back at me.  Waiting.

"Okay, kids.  What Mommy just did is a terrible example.  I should not have done that.  I just got really angry because that man was putting you guys in danger with his bad driving.  But I shouldn't have done that.  I am really sorry."

With a smirk, Sean reminds me about the sermon in church two weeks ago on forgiveness.  "That's right, I should have prayed for him instead." I tell the kids.   "After all, Christmas is about love and forgiveness." I stumble on, "So, uhm, let's pray for him.  'Dear God, please help that man to see how his driving could hurt someone.  Help him to drive safer.  And if it's in your will, maybe have a policeman pull him over so we can all drive by and see your justice and will be done.  Amen.' "

"But you still gave him the fingers, Mommy." Ella reminds me in her most adult voice.  

Finally, home.  We set-up our tree and my blunder is left in the past as we jump into the Christmas season.  Or so I think.

It's a Thursday night Bronco game.  We are playing against the San Diego Chargers.  At this point in the game, the Chargers look great and the Broncos haven't shown up yet.  Football is a family affair so the kids are piled on the couch - some paying more attention than others.  Every time the Chargers do something close to great, I usually say, "Ack!  That Philip Rivers."  or "Good grief, it's Philip Rivers."  I'm not sure how this started, but we use his name a lot.  Sometimes even when we aren't playing against Philip Rivers.  It has become a household name for frustration.   

So after a particularly beautiful touchdown by none other than...Philip Rivers...I make my usual, "Oohh, that Philip Rivers!!"

Ella, who loves football, puts her hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye and says, "Mommy, are you going to give him the fingers, too?"

I am quickly becoming my family's inside joke.  Ella is convinced that at any moment I might explode yet again in a fit of rage and give someone the fingers.  And these are how childhood memories are made.  Through collective moments that make up our perception of our upbringing, events that stick-out and become the stories we tell, the memories we keep.  

And I have just made a big one.  

If I could, would I go back and be a better example for my kids?  Would I have used that moment to demonstrate superhuman control, patience and love?  It certainly wouldn't have hurt to show them how someone could rock a moment like that with good thoughts for the truck driver instead of surrendering to the primal urge to give him back what he was so thoughtlessly giving us.  

But I am not a time traveler.  I cannot change the past.  I think that instead I will try to use that moment to show my children that parents make mistakes, too.  To give them an example of how everyone can make mistakes, sometimes even big ones.  Most especially, how we can learn from those so that when a situation like that comes around again, we will have learned how to handle it better.  

Sounds like a good plan.  Sounds like a memory making lesson.  My reputation with my kids will be restored.

So, I say to Ella, "No, I am not going to give Phillip Rivers the fingers, kiddo. I don't really want him to win, but I do wish him the best." I like the way I sound.  Pretty grown up and in control.  Then I kid her, "Come on now, is that the only thing you are going to remember about me when you are all grown up?"

"No."  She says with a smile.  "I also remember the time we were late to my kindergarten play.  You were pulling out of our driveway too fast and took the rear view mirror off with a tree."

So maybe I should look into time traveling, after all.  




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