Chapter 3: Blame it on the food poisoning

I have a shocking revelation for you: I’m no perfect parent.

And here is shocker number two: I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing.

We’re all human and prone to mistakes, errors in judgment and the occasional indiscretion or two. As a parent, I’ve said and done many things that have me questioning my ability to be a good role model for my kids. Most of these things revolve around losing my temper, letting a few four-letter words slip out, or laughing at inappropriate moments. I mean, I never hit my kids or emotionally abuse them, let me make that clear. I’m talking about the mistakes all parents make from time to time. The ones that make us all question our parenting skills. There’s just something about these small human beings who have the ability to take us back to a primal fight or flight state with a moment’s notice. We all have those moments where we’re tired or hungry or vulnerable. That’s precisely when they strike, like a missile defense system with a powerful radar and a stealthy approach.

But, this is not about my temper. It’s about mistakes and forgiveness.

My daughter just turned three. She has a heart that’s bigger than Texas. She’s a glowing ball of happiness and cheer, bringing smiles to 99% of the people she interacts with (and for what it’s worth, that last 1% are just sad, desperately repressed souls). I’d never do anything to hurt my kids or erode their trust in me. Not intentionally, at least. And when she’s scared or hurt, it tears me apart.Tonight, we planned a nice evening together as a family. The idea was to get dinner, grab some dessert and see a movie. Dinner started out nice enough. The kids were on their best behavior, the food was decent and we had a nice time. After dinner, we hit the local pet shop to look for a soft crate for our dog, then grabbed some dessert. Things were going along just fine. Soon enough, it was time to get to the theater. As we drove towards the theater, however, I began to feel light-headed and a little disoriented. I figured it was a sugar rush from the ice cream cone I’d just eaten (I had been cutting sugar out of my diet for awhile) and didn’t think much of it.

The parking lot was packed, so I double parked and ran over to make sure there were seats left, bought our tickets and jumped in the car to drop the wife and kids off in front of the theater. I pulled up in front and told the kids to get out on the curb side with my wife. My wife spotted a parking spot that had just opened up and exclaimed urgently from outside the car, “There’s a spot over there now. Go get it!” Feeling a little disoriented and light-headed still, and not thinking, I hit the gas and began to pull a u-turn—before the kids had finished getting out of the car.

“WAIT! WAIT!” exclaimed my wife frantically from outside the car.

I hit the brakes. I looked back.

“Stella wasn’t out of the car yet! You may have just run her over!”

I entered some sort of a state of shock. I didn’t panic, but I also didn’t under-react. I flipped the car into park and locked the parking brake into place before walking around back to where my family was standing. People in line for tickets looked at us like we were having a domestic dispute and then went along with their business, too concerned about getting their own tickets and popcorn. I saw my wife pick up my daughter and heard the ensuing crying from my little girl. I didn’t know what awaited me as I rounded the back of the car.

“Is she OK?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

“I don’t know,” said my wife, with a very understandable tone of anger in her voice. “I think she fell out and behind the wheel, but I can’t tell if her leg was run over.”

I reached out to hold my daughter and she came to me. I tried to calm her down and ask her if she was hurt. Her pant leg was wet and had a black mark on the outside. I slowly rolled up the pant leg, taking care not to jostle her too much. I envisioned black and blue marks, massive swelling, blood and a trip to the emergency room.

It was just an abrasion around the knee, from what we could tell. My wife moved her leg around gently and Stella didn’t scream or appear to be in any extreme pain. We were relieved, but of course, I was feeling horrible. My son came over and looked up at me. With a sad look, he leaned against me and said, “Daddy, that scared me.”

“Me too, bud. I’m sorry.”

I pleaded with Stella and told her how sorry I was and that it was an accident. They went inside while I left to park the car.

I think at that point, I was still in a state of shock. The weight of the situation hadn’t quite hit me yet. I knew we had dodged a bullet, but at that point, I didn’t really realize the size, velocity and trajectory of the bullet. We watched the movie and I think we both monitored Stella’s demeanor as closely as we could, watching to see if her leg appeared sensitive to movement or touch, or if she was extra sensitive or moody. She sat with me for awhile and seemed to be no worse for the wear. Ever so thankfully.

At some point during the last hour of the movie, the cramps began to strike and that was when I knew that I had gotten some kind of food poisoning from dinner, which explained the light-headed disorientation I’d experienced before and during the accident (not to mention, I ended up spending most of that night in or near a bathroom). It wasn’t an excuse for not stopping to make sure everyone was out before pulling away from the curb, but it at least offered some explanation as to why I may have been somewhat out of it at the time.

Once we got home, we were able to take a closer look at her leg and upon further inspection, it did, in fact, appear as though her knee was pinched between the tire and the ground a little. There were abrasions on either side of her leg. The best I can figure is that when I slammed on the brakes, the car lurched forward and bounced back, which was about when her leg landed behind the rear tire.

And that was when my imagination started to play out other possible scenarios.What if I had pulled away earlier? Just a second earlier and she could have fallen under the front of the back tire. I could have run her over. I could have sent her onto the cement head first. It could have been much, much worse.

The truth is, the only saving grace of the night came as we were leaving the theater after the movie and walking back to the car. I was carrying Stella and she suddenly wrapped her arms around my neck, gave me a big hug and enthusiastically exclaimed for the world to hear, “Youw the bestest daddy in the WHOWE WIDE WOWLD!”

Even though I felt as though this was not a title of which I was worthy at the moment, my heart warmed over a million times.

“How is your leg now?” I asked.

“Good,” she replied.

We made it back to the car, got the kids all buckled in and I thought for a moment how much I love my kids and how happy I am that my daughter has not yet learned how to hold a grudge. Her forgiveness had let me take it a little easier on myself, and once again, she was smiling and laughing true to form.

As I checked her seatbelt, Stella stopped and looked at me.

“Daddy, is the tire okay?”


  1. inger
    Jan 21, 2008

    oh god, that’s gotta be a horrifying feeling! but this stuff happens to lots of folks. you *are* the bestest daddy in the whole wide world.

    well, except for mine, of course.

    thanks for letting it all hang out here. i still want a BVH belt buckle.

  2. Bret
    Nov 19, 2013

    To this day, Stella—now almost 9—tells me not to run her over as she gets out of the car. True story.


  1. Bret Van Horn » You’d be surprised what people search for on the Interwebs. Really. - [...] I first started this blog, it was originally to be about my travails as a generation x parent, recounting…

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