For the briefest of moments, I was forced to wonder if one of my children might be dead.
There. I said it. The one thing that I've been thinking since Monday night, when a teenage boy pummeled into the back of our van, pushing us into the car ahead. The thing I almost dared not to voice, for fear that actually saying it out loud would somehow make it something that could have happened. That almost happened, even. But by the grace of God, didn't.
Only by the grace of God.
We (me and all five of my children) were running a projected five minutes late for my husband's annual Christmas Program. I was approaching an intersection, getting into the left turn lane, when the car in front of me stopped very suddenly, forcing me to slam on the brakes. I thought for a moment that we were going to hit him, but managed to stop the van with not a whole lot of extra space between us. Relief set in, but my silent prayer of thanks was cut short by the impact of a car slamming full-force into us from behind.
The moments that followed were some of the worst of my life. It was dark. My three oldest children, who were sitting in the backseat, were screaming wildly, and I had no idea how badly they had been injured. The baby, jarred awake by the blow, began screaming at the top of his lungs, too. And for the briefest of seconds, I thought that something dreadful might have happened to one of my children. There was confusion and terror and panic and sobbing, and when I cried out to them to find out if they were hurt, they insisted that they were.
Quickly, I scanned them over. I saw no blood, no protruding bones, and everyone was awake and alert. In fact, they were far more alert than usual, although understandably shaken. Somehow, I got everyone calmed down enough to tell me that they were not seriously injured...just bumped and bruised and whiplashed...and then my relief came down in torrents.
I was able to pull the van off the road into a parking lot (the same was not true for the car behind us, as it was missing its entire front end). I checked each of my five kids over inch by inch, hugged them to me one by one, and then sobbed out a prayer of thanksgiving to God for protecting us.
The next hour passed in a frenzy of cell phone calls, blinking lights, sirens, firefighters and police officers. I answered countless questions, rattled off birth dates, and shed a thousand tears. I was a bit in shock over what could have happened, yet even now I could go on and on with all the details I collected from the scene: who said what, how each person was feeling, who was crying, who came to help, whose phone number I misdialed in all the confusion, the damage our van sustained, the sorrow of the boy that hit us when he realized he'd put five children in harm's way.
But the truth is, none of that is very important.
What's important is that after anxiously waiting for a solid hour for his family to arrive at his program, with no way to be contacted and with no choice but to go on with the show, my panicked husband was able to look up and see all six of us coming toward him. We were all safe.
And over the last few days, both my husband and I have seen our lives and our children in a new light. We're cherishing the laughs and the ballerina twirls down the hall, the joking around at the dinner table, the brandishing of little swords, and the hugs and snuggles in between. When we're brushing little teeth, or wiping little bottoms, or teaching math lessons, or cleaning up after someone who didn't make it to the bathroom on time; when we're listening to children argue or fuss or even throw tantrums, and when we've been woken up yet again in the middle of the night, we've been acutely aware of the fact that we could have lost them. And we're thankful to be allowed to do even the most mundane of tasks for these precious, irreplaceable people- the children that we love.
A bit of humor, as I can't help but find humor in the ugliest of places:
While waiting for the police to arrive, a bystander picked something up from the ground outside and brought it to us. It was a picture of my husband that had been on the dashboard. He had not been properly restrained and had been thrown from the vehicle.
I remembered and relayed to my husband every emotional and story-telling fact of the accident scene in fabulous detail, except the one thing he wanted to know most of all: "What kind of cars were they?" What do you mean, what kind of cars? Ours is a van, the other two were cars. Two cars, one van. "But what kind of cars were they?" One was red and boxy, the other was tan (I think) and pretty crunchy.
Apparently this wasn't a good enough description.