Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bumper to Bumper

My oldest son turned 16 last month, and earned his driver's license soon after.
Between all the insurance quotes, and getting his grandpa's old car ready so that his first set of wheels would be in good working order, there's been so much going on that I didn't really have time to stop and think about my son.

On the road.


We spent a good amount of time driving around while he had his permit. He behind the wheel, me trying not to grasp the passenger side door handle like a life preserver.

And I'm okay with it.

Really, I am. I trust him. It's the other drivers on the road that I abhor.  Every time I'm driving and someone pulls a stupid-driver-move, my worry starts anew.

Like last night... I'm driving home with my daughter. It's around 9:45. Dark. Not much traffic. I'm sitting at a red light at a major intersection behind a silver minivan. There are four lanes. Two are left turn only - onto a highway. We are in the left of the two lanes going straight.
Above my head, the two red lights over the turn lanes change to green arrows. Mind you, our stop lights were still red.
The minivan begins crossing the intersection. Two cars heading the other direction - and turning left - have to slam on their brakes.  Horns blare. The minivan's break lights go on for a split second - maybe she's confused - then she continues on her way. Right through the red light.

Upon hearing the horns, my daughter asks what happened.
"A lady just ran a red light," I told her, glancing in my rear view mirror to give her a reassuring smile.
"Probably on the phone," my daughter dead pans.

It is these things I worry about. And I tell my new driver.
"You have to anticipate the other driver's actions," I say as casually as possible.
He nods, serious.
"Never assume they're paying attention, ya know bud? Just because they have a red light doesn't mean they're going to stop."
"Got it" he assures me.

But you never know what's going on in the cars around you...

Case in point:

It's a brisk, winter day at the end of 2001. December 26th, to be exact.  I had just dropped Connor, who at the time was just four years old, off at pre-school and headed to the mall with my little guy, Jack (then 2) and my mom. Like most of America on the road that day, we were returning and exchanging gifts and cashing in on some gift cards. As we leave the mall, Jack is getting fussy. Strapped in his car seat, he starts to throw a bit of a tantrum. My mom pulls an individually wrapped life saver out of her purse. "Can I give him one of these?"

I glance over. Those individually wrapped ones are larger than their full-roll counterparts, so I thought it would be fine. Besides, I'd heard that Lifesavers were given their name because they had a whole in the middle - they were supposed to be safe because even if it gets stuck in your throat, you can still breath through that little hole.

"Um, sure," I say.

My mom unwraps the candy and hands it to Jack, who stops whining, smiles and pops it in his mouth.

I pull out of the mall parking lot, and follow the traffic down the street towards a major intersection. As I pull my mini van (yeah, I had a mini van) up to the light, it turns red, and I stop behind two other cars. A line of traffic forms behind me.

My eyes are on the light, waiting for it turn green, when I hear Jack cough. Once, twice.

"You okay buddy?"  As I turn my head to look back at him, he starts choking in earnest.  Crap.
"Jack?" I throw the car into "Park," unbuckle my seatbelt, pull off my jacket and climb in back.
 "Oh, God," I hear my mom say.
I try patting him on the back, telling myself to stay calm. "It's okay buddy."

His face is turning red. I unbuckle his car seat and start pulling his winter coat off of him.
"Beth!" my mom's voice sounds like it's traveling through a tunnel. She is yelling something about the light turning green.  Car horns are blaring. I don't care.
I pull jack out of his seat and stick my pinkie finger in his mouth. Nothing. I crouch down between the two middle seats in the van, turn him around so that he's facing forward, clasp my hands just under his sternum and start short pumps, in and up.

I hear him gasping and my mom yelling. Then a distinct "ping" as the lifesaver hits the front windshield. I can't remember if he started throwing up before or after the "ping" - or maybe it was somewhere in the middle.  Those few moments are a blur now.
I do remember that after the "ping," he started to cry.

As did I.

Exhausted, I pull him into my lap in the open passenger seat and hold him, whispering that everything is okay.
That's when I hear the sirens, and notice the mess of cars trying to get around me. I open the sliding door of the van and explain to the officer what had happened.
He escorts us down the street to a fire station, where a paramedic checks him out, and we clean up the van as best we can.

But I digress.

I was on the phone with a client the other day who also happens to be a new dad. His little girl is about seven months old.  "She just started crawling," he informed me (I could hear the smile in his voice). "So, I ran out and bought all those protective covers for the outlets, ya know? And those padded bumpers?" I nodded, though he couldn't hear me, as he continued, "I just wish I could cover every single surface in the house with those things, ya know? To protect her?"
I agreed with him around the lump in my throat.  "I know how you feel. My oldest just got his driver's license."
"Oh. Wow!"
"Yeah. I kinda wish I could cover every single road in the city with those padded bumpers." He laughed and I smiled. Wiped a tear (thankful it wasn't a skype call) and we went back to business as usual.

It is nice to have another driver in the house, though. He's been more than helpful, dropping his brother off at friends' houses, picking his little sister up from summer camp and whatnot.

From crawling to walking, school busses to driving... I guess all we can do is prepare them the best we know how, remember to breathe, and enjoy the ride...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Communication really is key. Anybody know where I left my key?

I'm a communicator by trade.

Since 1993 I've made a living marketing brands' goods and services. And since 2004, I've made nice income on the side writing - helping companies communicate via their website, print and web ads, brochures, press releases, training manuals, video scripts and the like.
So, really, I'm a professional communicator. Right? I know a thing or two about how to use the right words to communicate the message. Let's agree on that right off the bat.

Still with me?

So, why is it that there are still times when I might not understand a message being delivered to me? And when my message to others is misunderstood? I'm a professional, dammit!

Okay, but here's the thing.  Each of us comes equipped with a brain (yeah, yeah, that's questionable... I know you're reading this thinking, uh, yeah, not this guy I know...). But in general, let's agree that most everyone's got a little something upstairs.

The problem is, along with the brain power, that mass in the head is also filled with various messages, thoughts, and life experiences that give us our own world view, a different voice, and a unique filter for receiving said messages.

Case in point.  A few weeks ago, an old friend invited me to a baseball game. I'll state up front that this friend is male.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course (insert polite laughter among the men, knowing smirks among the women).  But it's been proven - in a published book no less - that men and women are from two different planets. And if the printed word is to be believed, well, that's like communicating with someone who, quite literally, can be roughly anywhere between 60 and 222 million miles away (this according to a scientific website - the distance changes based on the movement of the planets of course. But I find this very interesting because it also speaks to the fact that some males and females communicate very well together while others, well... not so much).

But I digress.  The morning of the baseball game, this friend (let's call him "T") called me apologizing. He had forgotten that he'd already invited someone else to the game, and forgot. Just like that, I was out. She was in. My mind received the message something like this: I realized I'd rather go to the game with her, so I'm essentially uninviting you. Sorry. I found out later from "T" that in his mind, it was more important to do the right thing. He truly had forgotten. He'd been reminded, and believed that the right thing to do was to honor the original commitment, regardless of what he wanted to do. In his mind, it was right vs. wrong. In my mind it was her vs. me.


In case it's a bit convoluted, here's my point: Know your audience. This is absolutely essential.
What if you are "talking to" a very large audience? you ask.  Good question! This is why it's so important to make your messages clear and use the simplest language. I want to laugh when I read emails, blog posts, and articles that use "big fancy" words. Exactly who are you trying to impress? Simplicity is key. Be clear. Be concise. And leave no room for interpretation. That way, regardless of your audience, your odds of being understood will be that much better.

I love words.  Really.  I'm fascinated by them. How they can be put together in so many ways, to create so many meanings. I'm fascinated by where language comes from, how it's interpreted. And why it's misunderstood.

I find it fascinating, too, that writing is becoming both commonplace (now that the internet, blogs, e-publishing and texting has given everyone a platform and a voice) and a lost art (what with all the butchering of our language, proper grammar and punctuation).

What do you think of the great gender divide? Are we really so far apart in our communication? And I'm curious, is there anyone else out there who shudders when they come across a gross butchering of our language? What's your biggest grammar peeve?