Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sometimes, Even Mamas Make Mistakes

This afternoon, I was driving my daughter to dance class when we came to a spot in the highway where traffic was slowing down substantially.  On the other side of the road, there were two cars stopped.  In the median strip, a man was lying face down in the grass, not moving.  Someone else was leaning over him.  It wasn't safe to stop right there, so I grabbed my cell phone and dialed . . . 611.

Immediately realizing my mistake, I tried to dial again.  On the third try I successfully dialed 911, and my Blackberry cheerfully told me it was "restoring network connections" -- it had a low battery and was not getting a signal.  After waiting a few seconds, I asked my daughter for her cell phone.  I opened it and hit the wrong button, so when I tried to dial, it thought I was dialing "W.."  By this point, I had managed to get off the highway at the wrong exit, was totally flustered, and realized that almost certainly one of the stopped drivers and/or another passing motorist had already called for help.  So I did what anyone in my situation would have done.

I yelled at my daughter.

I will, in the interest of both her privacy and brevity, skip over what I was ostensibly yelling at her for.  And I should mention that, while I am not by any means the perfect mom or the calmest one, I am not, on the whole, a yeller.  But there I was, saying things that one should not say to one's daughter, using language that one generally hopes one's daughter will not ever use, and generally being out of control, now in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center.  She yelled back, tears were shed -- a lot of them on both sides.

What the heck happened here?

Let me start by saying that I don't want to make excuses for how I acted.  Please don't flame me in the comments and tell me that it doesn't matter why I did it, it was the wrong thing to do.  I know that.  That's something that I have begun to, and will continue to attempt to, repair with my daughter.

It might help shed some light on why I was inclined to completely lose it at her (if not why I actually did) if you put yourself in my situation for a moment and imagine how I was feeling.  First, I had just seen something that, on the face of it, was really upsetting.  Second, I had been desperately trying to call 911 and had been unsuccessful, in part because I was so freaked out I couldn't operate a cell phone properly.  Mostly, I felt incredibly helpless -- a man was, as far as I knew, dying on the median strip and I could not help in the simplest of ways.

So I did what people so often do at these moments -- I took it out on someone else.  It couldn't be my fault, so it had to be my daughter's.  It certainly had to be someone's fault.  On top of that, my body had an adrenaline rush but nothing to to "do" with that sensation.  There was no action I could take.  I couldn't do flight, so I did fight -- I just fought with the wrong person.

Knowing that there was a good reason I acted as I did does not actually make me feel a whole lot better about doing it.  As a crisis responder, I encounter people like me all the time -- people who have acted, in the middle of an incident, in a way that is totally uncharacteristic of them any other time -- and I'm pretty good at helping them.  But it's hard to help yourself, which is why even crisis teams need crisis teams sometimes.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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