I could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.
I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.
I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.
I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within a few feet of your car door.
My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.
I’d like to say that incident changed me.
And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.
It’ll just be a second.
The traffic isn’t bad.
I’ll just check at a stoplight.
I’m good at multi-tasking.
The kids aren’t with me.
This call is important.
This message can’t wait.
And for two years after the red light incident, I continued my distracted ways. When I think about the number of times I put my life, my children’s lives, and other drivers' lives at risk for the sake of a meaningless call or message, I feel physically ill.
But one glorious day, while out for a run, I was overcome with regret, sorrow, and clarity. I vowed to stop making excuses as to why I was missing my life – and risking my life – for my distractions.
Within hours of that life-changing run, I took one of the first steps toward living free from distraction’s powerful grip. I turned off the notifications on my phone and put it in a drawer. No longer would I be controlled by the sound of notifications, beeps, and dings. No longer would my attention on the living beings in my home be suddenly dropped because of the summons from a little black box.
The immediate peace in my house was not only noticeable, it was freeing and empowering. Suddenly I was the one in charge of my thoughts, my attention, and my actions—not my phone.
I knew what I must do the next time I got in the car.
My phone was put on silent while I drove. And to help control any sudden urges to check the screen, I put the phone in my purse and placed it on the floorboard of the passenger seat where it could not be reached.
Immediately the atmosphere in the car changed. With one flip of the ‘off’ button, I was available to the little girls sitting in the backseat of the car. The fact that they noticed and responded to my newfound availability was evident. It became clear that my children had missed their mother chatting with them, pointing to things as we drove, and asking them questions about their day. With the phone turned off and out of reach, I was back in the driver’s seat of life … literally and figuratively.
It’s been several years since I made changes in the way I drive. Although I am far from perfect, my children know I make a conscious daily effort to avoid phone use while driving. I find it ironic that I always kept my phone turned on and nearby because I thought I would miss something “important.” I was actually missing what was most important by being tied to my phone while driving. Drive time has become a safe haven from outside distractions—a place where my children open up and talk to me. That is what is most important now.
I must admit, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about her—that tired, stressed out, overwhelmed woman who ran a red light and almost lost her life. If I could talk to her today, I would tell her what I know now that I didn’t know then …
Don’t look away,
There’s too much ahead of you.
Don’t look away,
There’s nothing on that screen that can’t wait.
Don’t look away,
No call is worth your life.
Don’t look away,
What matters in life cannot be repaired or replaced.
Don’t look away,
Life should come to a stop at a red light, but not an end.
And then I would tell her that if she needed validation for putting away the phone, it would eventually come.
A year after she stops driving distracted, she is sitting at a stop light next to her neighborhood grocery store. Her older daughter looks over at the cemetery next to the traffic light. Although they’d passed it many times, this is the first time she speaks about it. Gazing out the window at the gravestones protruding from the ground, her astute child says, “I bet 95 percent of those people died from texting and driving.”
And after a heart-stopping pause, the little girl says, “I am glad you don’t do that anymore, Mama.”
That’s when she looks up at that red light and counts her blessings, starting with the precious cargo in backseat—two children who are learning how to navigate life by watching her live.
Update 7/24/15: My friends, I published this story two years ago, but the message is as relevant now as it was then. In fact, there is a gut-wrenching AT&T ad making rounds about the fatal results of a mom’s glance at social media while driving. I must warn you, the video causes quite an emotional reaction. I know many people who have vowed to change their ways after viewing it. But I fear that within a week or two, many will go back to their old ways. But here is a tip: I have discovered a simple question that instantly dissuades me from engaging with my phone while driving. When tempted to look at the screen for any reason, I touch my Live Hands Free bracelet and say, “Would I want my child to do this while driving?” Because what she sees me doing now is likely what she will do in the future. The answer to that question always slaps me in the face and reminds me to pull over to use the phone or wait until I reach my destination.
* For visual reminders to Live Hands Free, please check out the leather bracelets, non-leather reminder bands, and key chains. My book, HANDS FREE MAMA, chronicles every step and strategy I used to overcome my distracted ways. My soon-to-be-released book, HANDS FREE LIFE, offers a deeper, more lasting transformation that speaks to a wider circle: parents, nonparents, men, women, singles, teachers–anyone searching for meaning and breathing room in our chaotic, distraction-addicted world. You can get a free download of HANDS FREE MAMA when you pre-order HANDS FREE LIFE from now until September 7. Details here.
Thank you for being part of this incredibly supportive Hands Free Revolution community. We are a group of like-minded people seeking to let go of distraction, perfection, societal pressure to grasp what matters most! Thank you for lifting me up this week as I endured my final kidney surgery. Your loving support & encouraging messages this week have blessed me immeasurably.