In my last column I so brazenly made light of my family's final summer vacation to South Dakota, more specifically the swarm of bees they drove through with open car windows during a trip I was unable to attend. During my road-trip to meet Declan's mother last week I got a little taste of my own roadway chaos.
We were a little over an hour into our several hour drive and Casey and I were casually chatting in the front seats, brainstorming solutions to global energy and economic crises. Actually I think we were discussing video game strategies but my mom reads this column from time to time so I thought that would sound better.
Casey had only required a slight amount of pleading before he agreed to ride along, he was not particularly fond of spending his day-off in a car, but he had eventually consented.
Declan was snug in his car seat in the back and had been quietly reading from an assortment of books and magazines when suddenly a shrill scream rang through the car. If you have a toddler, no matter whether they are a boy or a girl, you have likely heard one of these four-alarm screeches that send everyone in the vicinity instinctively into action.
The car was traveling at a little over 65 mph, so as Declan's continuous screaming shot my nerves into overdrive I tensed even more as a fear of losing control of the car washed over me. I snapped an immediate glance at Declan to see him leaning slightly forward in his car seat, covered in what appeared to be a thick milky substance. The bridge of his nose was oddly enough where the largest concentration of it lay.
I flashed a look at the road ahead and then back at Declan, trying to process the strange scene and control the voices in my head that were saying in a panicked tone, "this is how accidents happen."
The milky substance was splattered all over the inside of the closed car window next to him, as well as on the empty seat behind me, most of it at shoulder height. My first thought was that he had shaken up a carbonated bottle of milk and opened it in his own face. Just as quickly as I settled on that notion I realized there was no such thing as carbonated milk and even if there was, Declan did not have a drink with him in the back seat.
I told myself to keep calm and focus on driving until I could get the car safely pulled over but Declan continued to scream, sounding as if the liquid were some form of acid burning away at him.
Casey and I were both talking 90 miles an hour, shooting the expected questions at Declan like, "Are you OK?," "What happened?" I wanted nothing more than to yank my seat belt off and jump in the backseat to Declan's aid but a small part of me, driven by an even greater fear of getting into a wreck, had taken over and continued to pry my gaze towards the road ahead.
I noticed Casey attempt to reach for Declan but he was unable to, due to his own seat belt and I remember thinking "Casey will take care of it, just drive the car Bruce."
I expected Casey to unbuckle his seat belt but instead I noticed him shrug back into his seat, his body language sending a clear message that there was nothing he could do, he simply couldn't reach the little guy with his seat belt on. The desperation of thinking Declan was in pain combined with the chaos of the moment sent a surge of adrenaline through me that overpowered the fear fueled self-control that had kept me calm up to this moment.
I turned to Casey in the seat next to me and boomed in my loudest, deepest tone, "What is it!"
It seems like such a simple short phrase when you put it in type now, but I could swear I drug those three words out for about 7 or 8 seconds when I roared them that day. Casey looked back at me wide-eyed as he quickly unbuckled his seat belt and swung his body around towards the back of the car. He wiped off Declan's face in one swipe and as I again focused on driving I could hear him ask Declan, "is it burning you?"
My roar had silenced Declan's screaming down to a normal crying session and he sniffled a calm response back to Casey, "No, I was just scared," he replied meekly.
I was finally getting the car pulled over, quickly put it in park and ran around the outside to his car door, still in fire-drill mode as his words registered.
As I pulled him out of his car seat and wiped him with some paper napkins it quickly became clear that he wasn't in any pain at all, the incident really had just scared and surprised him.
The night before Casey had given Declan a few dollars to purchase a toy. Declan had chosen a rubbery, bouncy and almost gummy-like Angry Bird toy that he had spent the evening annoyingly bouncing off of the walls and windows of our home. I had extended him an unprecedented amount of patience with the annoying toy because it was to be his last evening with me before departing for his mother's for the summer. If I had only known the chaos it would cause, I most likely would have given in one of the many urges to trash it the night before.
Apparently while Declan was reading an especially interesting issue of Lego magazine he squeezed on the rubbery toy to such a degree that it caused it to explode like a water balloon in his face.
The contents of it were harmless as far as we could tell, but the shock of it exploding unexpectedly in his face sent him into the shriek mode that triggered the entire chaotic scene.
Casey and I were both so wound up on adrenaline from the scene that after I cleaned Declan up and buckled him in, we got into an argument over who responded the slowest, which lasted another two to three minutes. We eventually ended the arguing by bursting into laughter over Declan's revelation that he wasn't in any pain at all, just a "wittle scared."
My stomach still tenses at the thought of his screaming that day. I may still prefer being subjected to Declan's unleashing of the power scream, over driving through a swarm of angry bees with the windows down, but I am one hundred percent certain that his broken Angry Bird toy is one that will not be replac