Slow down. As parents we say this to our children A LOT. As our toddler careens toward the coffee table, we yell, “Slow down.” As we jog after our 6 year old riding their bike down the street, we gasp, “Slow down.” When our daughter asks to go to the movies with a boy in her class, we whisper, “Slow down.” When our children whip through their homework to have it done rather than to learn, we say, “Slow down.” As our teen gets behind the wheel of the car, we warn over and over, “Slow down,” while hitting our imaginary brakes.
This week in Franklin County, the words “Slow down” have become especially poignant. This past week, three of our high school seniors died in a car crash. There is a feeling of mourning throughout the whole county. Our community is small enough that even if you didn’t know the boys or their families, you know someone who did. Every heart is breaking right now for the families of those boys and for their loss. Our community has also lost several other teens in driving accidents in the past two years. Our hearts are overwhelmed.
With all of this, I am having a very hard time right now letting our 16 year old take the car keys. I do not want him to drive. I feel physically ill when he asks to drive. Not letting him drive right now gives me a sense that I have some control over the many dangers he faces and the choices he makes. But, of course, I really don’t. Part of the problem is that while I can easily imagine him in a car speeding out of control, I don’t think he can. I want so desperately to keep him safe. I think that is hard-wired into the experience of being a parent.
My children want to rush to the next great thing- driving, dating, late night curfews- often before they are ready. They want it all today. As a parent it is my job to tap on the brakes. But even as I slow them down, I have to accept that I can’t stop them. I can’t wrap them up in bubble wrap or lock them in their rooms. They are growing up and part of that means conquering new horizons, taking risks, and facing dangers. The major lesson I find myself trying to teach them these days is that what they do today- how fast they drive, how hard they study, or even what they post on Facebook- can have a major impact on their tomorrows. I am saying it over and over, hoping it will come to mind as they take on new challenges.
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And I am also realizing that this is a message parents need to hear too. While our children’s battle cry is “Today,” ours seems to be “Tomorrow.” Tomorrow we will go to the park, finish the book, play a game. Tomorrow we will exercise, eat right, schedule that doctor’s appointment. What we as parents do today can have a major impact on our tomorrows also. As important as it is for our children’s health, safety, and well being to slow down and save some things for tomorrow, perhaps it is equally important for our health, safety and well being to slow down and do things today. Today’s actions can have a major impact on our tomorrows. It is a lesson we all need to slow down and learn--- in hopes that we may have many, many tomorrows together with few regrets.