These days, people say "Season's Greetings," which, when you think about it, means nothing. It's like walking up to somebody and saying "Appropriate Remark" in a loud, cheerful voice.

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The Worst Thing in the World Almost Happened Tonight

Boom-ba-boom. That's the sound that accompanies my ten year old daughter everywhere she goes. Everywhere. It's the sound of a bouncing basketball. That sound is like the ever present fog of dirt that accompanies that Peanuts character Pig Pen.

She bounces with her left hand. Through her legs. And bounces with the right. I'm just thinking of it now but I'm pretty sure that if I were blindfolded I could tell you which hand she was dribbling with just from the sound. In fact, I'm sure of it. In the past two years boom-ba-boom has become the soundtrack of our lives.

She brings the ball with her everywhere she goes. I tell myself that other kids drag IPods and phones everywhere so I'm thinking this is actually better than that. Noisier. But better.

So when I told everyone to get in the van it was 5:30 p.m. and she dribbled through the kitchen and out onto the driveway where she shot the ball at our driveway hoop once, retrieved the rebound while her 11 year old sister harrumphed about all the three seconds of wasted time that she had to wait for her to get in the van.

The seven year old boy had practice, the harumpher had practice right after that, and the 13 year old right after that. Some of the times overlapped so I had to do some dropping off at practice and running back to get another one. You know how it is, it's the life of the 21st century parent. We can't just allow our children out to play "Lord of the Flies" in the neighborhood anymore. No, we live in the land of unmarked vans and milk carton faces so instead of free range children we get activities children. We sign our children up for activities. And we become drivers. Worse yet, we become drivers with little control of the radio. I think I'd honestly hate Taylor Swift by now if I hadn't lived through Miley Cyrus.

We were running around until 9:45. My wife was visiting her mother in the hospital so we couldn't split up driving responsibilities so all five kids were with me.

When we got to the last practice I pulled up in front of the gym. A little explanation is necessary. Our Catholic school was regionalized so the kids all attend a new school. The old school had a gym that backed up onto a pretty busy street. There are so many teams practicing in the new gym that they assigned some teams to practice in the old school's gym. It's abandoned. It's dark. So I pulled up right in front of the door to pick up my oldest daughter from practice.

My ten year old, knowing that balls were being bounced nearby, asked if she could go inside and watch the last few minutes of her sister's practice inside. I'm pretty sure she was hoping that if she dribbled the ball on the sideline the coach would see her mad skills and promote her up from fourth grade and onto the Varsity team. I said she could. She hopped out.

The eleven year old, the five year old, and the seven year old all started talking to me at once. I don't even remember what about. But somewhere in my mind I realized that something was off. It hit me. I didn't hear the sound of the basketball. Surely, she would've dribbled the ball the fifteen feet to the front door. I looked at the door of the gym and my daughter wasn't there. I looked up in front of the van. She wasn't there. I looked behind and there she was, about to bolt out across the road. And I could see from the way she was standing with her right leg out and all the pressure on her back leg that she was about to dash. But with all the cars and trucks lining the street she couldn't see all the cars coming down the street. I guess she'd gotten confused in the darkness and not being familiar with the back of the gym. She thought the gym was across the street when it was right behind her. But there she was poised to dart out into traffic.

I yelled out. But, of course she couldn't hear me. And I didn't so much as think it as just acted. I honked the horn. Really laid on it. I saw her jump backwards (thank goodness) and then look at me through the back window as a big blue pickup sped past us going far faster than was safe on that road.

She came around on the sidewalk and looked at me inquisitively and a bit afraid to be honest.

"WHERE WERE YOU GOING?!!!!!!!"

She turned her head around as if she didn't understand the question. "The gym?" she answered.

"THE GYM IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!!!! GET IN THE VAN." I'll admit that I yelled. And I almost never yell. She got in the van and I yelled a bit more. A lot more. You see, I was yelling at this little person who almost took away my ten year old daughter. That's who I was yelling at. I didn't understand how this little girl sitting in my van could be so reckless with the little girl that I loved so much, that I would die if anything had happened to.

I knew, of course, that the girl I was yelling at was the same girl that I was so worried about but such logic didn't matter. The worst thing in the world nearly happened and I was going to make darn sure this was never going to happen again. And if it took a little yelling to scare the worst thing in the world from ever coming near the Archbolds again, so be it. When I was done yelling I faced front. She held her head down. I could hear her crying softly.

A little piece of me already felt bad for yelling. But the fear was still in control. My hands in my lap were shaking as I looked out onto the road where the worst thing in the world almost happened. The fear, playing with me now, flashed images to me of what almost happened. I literally had to turn my head away from the road to prevent those images from coming into my mind.

My thirteen year old climbed into the van a few moments later. Right away she started in with how staaaaaaaaaarving she was. And then she told us all about the screens she set, the rebounds she grabbed, the shots she made, and what one of the girls said which was HA-larious! But after a minute she sensed the mood in the van and she too fell silent for the remainder of the trip. She knew something big had happened. It's like the way ears ring after an explosion. She didn't know that the worst thing in the world almost happened. But she knew something happened.

As we pulled into the driveway my breathing was a little more regular and I had started to realize that in the end the worst thing in the world didn't happen. "IT ALMOST DID" reminded the fear part of me. But it didn't, I reminded myself. And I silently thanked God that it didn't happen. The kids all got out and silently walked into the house. The ten year old climbed out and avoided my eye. I asked her to wait one second. She stopped and slowly looked up at me.

"I'm sorry," I said and opened my arms to her. She immediately crashed into me. She doesn't hug like my other girls. She crashes into me. She's not dainty. She has no daint whatsoever. Her face was pressed up against my shirt and I heard her crying. Her face was pressed so tight that I couldn't make out exactly what she was saying but I suspect she was saying she was sorry. I told her that she just scared the heck out of me and it's only because I love her so much and that I never want anything bad to happen to her. I held her and patted the top of her head.

The fear was finally silent. I realized that everything was alright. I looked down at her and asker her if she was alright. She smiled. We walked up the driveway and she fell half a step behind me. Boom-ba-boom. I smiled when I heard it. I think that's when if really hit me. Everything was alright. The worst thing in the world didn't happen tonight. Boom-ba-boom.

*subhead*Fear.*subhead*

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16 comments:

Margaret said...

Thanks be to God. Good thinking with the horn, too.

Sharon said...

I wish I hadn't read this first thing in the morning, you've brought tears to my eyes. Blessings to you and your family!

susan said...

God bless you!...what great Guardian Angels you have!

Patrick Archbold said...

You clearly do not discipline your children properly.

KC said...

Thanks be to God, indeed. And, Patrick, very funny.

jacrow said...

Thanks for making this man cry! Thanks be to God it ended so well. May God bless and continue to protect you and all your family.

Bridget said...

This made me cry because of what you lived through and because of what we're living through. You see, the worst thing in the world did happen to us a little over a year ago. Our sweet baby girl Ella died a few days before Christmas 2011. Her heart was just too sick...I wish something as mundane as a LOUD horn could've saved her. I wish I could hug her again. Hug all your kids as often as you can! Thank you for sharing this story. God bless you all!

crazylikeknoxes said...

What a relief. I thought you were going to say that you were sitting the car and Wampum Gagnam style came on the radio. Still, I feel guilty now about not having my horn fixed. The life you save ....

matthew archbold said...

Bridget, you're in my prayers. My heart breaks for you.
Matt

Jennifer Merkel said...

I have felt that paralyzing fear and that sense of what-might-have-been, and then that reflexive anger that terror brings.
In my boys' younger years, these things happened several times, and I always told them that there is nothing you want to face less than a mommy that you have terrified. I have yelled and apologized. I have also told them that the more you love the more you react when you fear they will be hurt or killed. How would they feel if we didn't get upset?
Bridget, I will pray for you as well.

Anita said...

Bridget, I am so sorry. I will pray for you.

Mary De Voe said...

All of the above.

Anthony S. Layne said...

Beautiful post, Matt! And my prayers for you, Bridget.

Ann said...

You assumed she was saying she was sorry when you couldn't understand what she was saying? What did she have to be sorry for? All she did was take a wrong turn after getting out of the car. Maybe you should have been watching her more closely. That assumption and blogging about this incident is even worse than yelling at her in the car. I feel sorry for your children, their life is on display for all to see.

Barbara Golder said...

Apropos Ann’s comment.

“Sorry” isn’t a univalent word that only means regret for having done a moral wrong, as Ann’s own comment points out. Ann feels “sorry” for Matt’s kids, though she has no culpability in the matter at all. Sometimes sorrow is just that—sadness because of the awful things that can happen despite our best efforts in a broken world. Kind of like Christ’s being sorrowful even unto death.

For that matter, Matt didn’t do anything morally culpable, either. He did what he needed to in order to save his child from being hurt and that saving involved visiting a temporary and lesser pain. His sorrow too more properly reflects something other than moral culpability: the all too human fear for his beloved daughter and certainly the sadness when we cause pain to another we love even when we do not wish to or when there is no other choice.

As for the children suffering from his posts—one common theme among children is that their parents—especially their dads—never tell them how much they are loved. This will not be a problem for the Archbold kids. There is no doubt that there will be occasions when, as a result of their tender sensibilities, especially as teens, they will feel embarrassed. But in the long run they have only to revisit columns like this to understand the great love their father has for them. And that love, the love of their father, will also communicate in very real fashion the love of the Father. As it should, even when pain is involved.

For my part, Matt—keep writing, just like this.


Faith said...

I am so happy you opened your arms out to her. Life would have been so strained and terrible if you hadn't.

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