Ever since my recent Unavoidable/Terrifying Deer Encounter, driving the grandkids in the car has taken on new meaning. Technically, I am using my husband’s Nissan truck since my accordion of a car is parked in an auto body repair lot. Strips of its frame lay in a pile on the gravel. We will not be reunited for weeks.
I was ten miles from home after a glorious writing weekend spent on Squam Lake when a relative of Bambi’s shot out of the woods and into the path of my Honda CRV. Its fawn had just safely crossed the busy highway, thanks to a number of cars and trucks swerving to avoid hitting it.
A split-second later, all you can do is cry. You can’t change what happened, though you wish you could. And then the memory of your sister, at the age of five, flashes before you. We’d been at a movie theatre watching Bambi when she got out of her seat and walked down the aisle, pointing her finger at the large screen. “Your mother is dead,” she said, as if Bambi didn’t realize.
I love animals, which is why I wanted to rescue the fawn, express my sorrow for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and then find some nice person to adopt it. And when I explained this to the state trooper, he nicely asked me to remain seated, and then reiterated how lucky I was. The scene was ripe for a multi-car accident, and if my hood had not folded, the mother deer would have flown through my windshield.
I am alive.
I am grateful.
But I still think about the mother deer. I think about the fawn. So I’ve convinced myself that the baby is safe in some field, chasing after butterflies, and does not require years of therapy. My seven-year-old granddaughter told me that the buck found the fawn, and is now taking care of it. “Grandma, the baby is fine. You just have to stop hitting deer with your car.”
“One deer, Ava.” I hold up a finger. “I hit one deer, which I couldn’t avoid.”
And this is why our car routine has changed.
Today, I buckle my twenty-month-old grandson in his car seat. Ava pulls her chest strap tight. “Okay, it’s really tight. I’ll be safe.”
Landon takes his train in and out of his cup holder. “Choo-choo-choo-choo.”
Five minutes later we are on the highway, and Landon is trying to get Ava’s attention. “Dah, dah, dah . . .”
“Ava, why aren’t you answering Landon?”
“Because I don’t understand what he’s saying, and I’m too busy to talk to him,” she says. “I have more important work.”
I glance toward the back. Ava is watching the scenery flash past her.
“What work?” I ask.
“I am The Deer Watcher.”
“Truuuck!” shouts Landon, pointing at a moving van. “Truuuck!”
Everything is a truck. Cars are trucks, buses are trucks, and bicycles are trucks. Except our cat. Our cat, according to Landon, is a “Doggie.”
“DEER!” Ava screams.
I lift my foot off the gas pedal, position above the brake. I scan the road; my heart is in my throat.
“Grandma, DEER!” she yells again.
“TRUCCKKK!” shouts Landon.
“WHERE?” I say.
“Way up there, on the hill.”
“Those deer are in no danger of being hit by me.”
“How do you know?” Ava asks. “There are babies up there.”
I put my foot on the gas. We get off the highway and drive to Panera Bread. (Before my eldest daughter calls me out, I will admit that, on occasion, I might suggest that the grandkids beg me to take them to Panera, while I am a Panera Smoothie Addict.)
I order macaroni and cheese for Landon, chicken noodle soup for Ava, and a mango smoothie for me.
Landon drives his train through the macaroni while Ava and I discuss how The Deer Watcher doesn’t want to be The Screamer Who Gives Grandma An Anxiety Attack.
Here is what we come up with:
AVA’S SAVE A DEER PLAN
- Ava is in charge of watching for deer.
- Ava points deer out to Grandma when they are standing by the edge of the highway, not up on a hill, so far away that Grandma needs glasses to see the deer.
- Avoid highways when we can take a scenic route instead.
- Don’t scream “DEER” in the car as a joke. Grandma says that is not funny.
But in a way it is. Humor is what gets us through the tough times.
What a wonderful, wonderful life.