Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pirate Talk, My Dad's Birthday and How I'm Not Special

Aaargh! Thanks for droppin' anchor at me swashbucklin' blog, matie! Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I always thought it was funny that International Talk Like a Pirate Day fell on my father's birthday. He never saw the humor in it, but if you knew my Dad, you know that overt silliness wasn't really his style. He had a great sense of humor; but it was usually aimed at the ridiculousness of what most people consider normal human behavior, rather than at things people intended to be funny.

He was a scientist through and through: always observing, always analyzing, never taking even the simplest of cultural assumptions for granted. He saw everything with an intensely critical eye and put practicality and rationality above all else. This made him a huge asset to the scientific world and, by extension, to the defense of our country. As you can imagine, it also made him a teenage daughter's worst nightmare. 

Dad would have been 64 today, but last year, just four days after his 63rd birthday, he lost his short battle with lung cancer. I miss him. We had a complicated relationship, but I'm happy to say that overall it was more good than bad, especially in the two years before he died. I could say loads more about him, and my mother who died ten years before him, but maybe another time. Hell, that's a book unto itself, probably....

Today is also AT&T's Pledge Day against texting while driving. Normally my first reaction to these kinds of things is "oh, yeah right, that will fix it." [I *may* have inherited a bit of Dad's cynicism]. But I took the pledge and I think you should, too.

A few years ago, Dad and I made a deal that he would stop smoking if I would stop talking on the phone while driving. He knew I did most of my chatting in the car -- because what on earth would I do with myself if I weren't multi-tasking? -- and it made him nervous. For a couple of months, we both kept our word; but it wasn't long before I was sneaking in a quick call here and there and he was sneaking out for a cigarette. I've been lucky that my use of the phone has so far not resulted in any accidents. Dad was not so lucky.

Ever since Monkey and Fozzie have been around, I've been much more careful about talking on the phone while in the car. I use the hands-free system in the car whenever possible, and I try to avoid talking while in traffic or on the Interstate. I'm extra careful about doing things that require me to look at the screen. So, I pull over if I need to dial a number I don't have on speed dial. I save texting until I'm parked. Or I wait until I'm at a red light. Or a stop sign. Or if I just need to check the map, very quickly, or just see if I still have the e-vite with the directions on it. Or just to see if the person I'm meeting just texted to ask if I'm running late (and let's face it, I am). Or....

And that's where it all starts to unravel.

It happens so fast. Because most of us are not involved in car accidents on a regular basis, the risk starts to seem less real. If you ask, of course, we're not stupid -- we'll say that we understand the dangers. But we don't feel them, usually. Life is busy, and being connected all the time makes us feel almost as though we are not allowed to unplug, even while driving. The perceived urgency of whatever is going on -- being late to meet someone, getting lost on the way to the interview, having an argument with a friend -- presses on us. And our recent experience as a driver -- I haven't been involved in a car accident in years! -- gives us the false perception that the pattern is going to continue, no matter what. [There has to be some brain science to back this up, I just know it!]

So we focus only on what we're trying to do, sweeping the risks under the rug and minimizing them in our heads. We choose, just for a second, to think of the world as though it's a video game, and if we make a mistake, we'll simply start over. We choose not to think about the people in the cars around us, the workers on the side of the road, the child waiting at the bus stop, our own kids in the backseat. Our overwhelmed brain is trying to process too much at once, so it allows us to take a seconds-long break from reality while we just glance at this one little thing.

On top of that, there's this little fact of human nature: we all think we're special. We treasure our individuality so much and have such an inflated view of our own skills, that we believe we are the exception to the rule. No, no, the people who have accidents doing this are teenagers. Or they're stupid people. Or they only happen on the interstate. Or those people text much more than I do, and they look down for longer periods. Not me, I can do it. It's just a quick glance. I'm a great driver. I can handle it.

Well, I might be special to the people who love me, and I might have some special talents, but being able to fully concentrate on moving a 4500-pound piece of machinery down the road when my eyes are on the center console isn't one of them. And I know myself all too well, that if I don't make the commitment today, if I don't promise myself or someone else that I won't do it, it will only be a matter of time before I'm glancing down more and more often, feeling a little guilty but doing it nonetheless.   

So, I'm taking my own personal It Can Wait pledge today. No texting while driving, even when stopped at a red light. No searching the map, or checking my email, or just glancing at one quick thing. Not while I'm alone, not while the boys are in the car, not while I'm on the highway, not on the slow-moving residential roads near my house. Not with a fox, not in a box, not on a train, not in the rain.... It can wait. I can pull over. The world will not end if I am late to an appointment or keep someone waiting on the other side of a text conversation. We all have to die someday, but there's no reason to die being an idiot (or worse, kill someone else). I owe more than that to the people who do think I'm special, especially the two little ones who are watching every move I make.

I'm making the pledge today, for everyone I love, and I hope you'll do the same.

Happy Birthday, Dad.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely awesome post. Your Dad would be so proud (and I always thought he had a great sense of humor:). I'm taking the pledge with you - no texting and driving. I'll stick to the crazy conversations my kids come up with - it's great to have a captive audience.