BAM! Cru-u-u-nch! Scre-e-e-e-ch!
I jammed the brakes and we lurched to a stop.
"Mama had a wreck in the driveway," a backseat agitator yelped.
"I don't have my seatbelt buckled. I might be hurt," claimed another.
"Daddy's right, Mama. You really need to watch where you're going," cried a third.
The fourth sat in morose silence as I tersely inquired, "What was that?"
No answer. Ever since I ran over the basketball and it exploded, prompting me to call 911 and report a bomb, my offspring have feared doing time under my wrath for leaving their belongings in the drive.
I opened the door and walked to the rear of the car. Wedged under my bumper, the lawnmower lay on its side, front wheels grotesquely twisted, gas leaking onto the driveway. My oldest son crept around from the opposite direction and peered at the rubble, still close-lipped.
"Who'd ya' hit, Mama?" gleeful children questioned from the interior of my automobile, throwing elbows and knees in a mad scramble over the third seat to press their faces against the glass for a better view of the crime scene.
As my eyes left the mangled mess and met his, my son sputtered, "I didn't do it. I didn't leave it there."
Last spring, his father and I decided to give him the responsibility of cutting the grass, for pay. At 10 years old, almost 11, we reasoned he had the maturity necessary to take care of himself and the equipment.
Now, however, standing behind my vehicle, picking up the crumpled mass of steel, listening to my child orate desperately about his faultlessness, I felt less confident. It wasn't so much that he made a mistake. My disconcert stemmed from his refusal to accept some portion of the blame for the current state of affairs.
While I pushed, dragged, carried the lawnmower toward the garage, I grew painfully discouraged by his insistence on innocence. I turned to him and asked, "Regardless of where you think you may have deposited this lump of metal when you finished, who was in charge of it?"
His face lowered and he mumbled, "Me."
"Call your father," I instructed, handing him my phone, "and explain what has happened."
A head popped out of the minivan and queried, "Is it dead, Mama?"
Two other children taunted, "Someone's in trouble, someone's in trouble."
Normally quick to counterattack, my eldest said a few, sad yes sirs, clicked the phone shut, and glumly climbed into the car.
When my husband returned from work that evening and inspected the casualty, he banged parts back into place, straightened the handle, checked the motor. The whole time our son observed, absorbing the stern silence enveloping him and fervently hoping he wouldn't have to give back every dollar he had earned thus far.
With the wheels still wompy, my spouse settled the mower on its belly and pulled the cord. It cranked. My son's heart did a happy dance, until his father said, "Now, go do the backyard." Oh, sweet sorrow.
Because the wheels wouldn't roll forward, he had to complete the entire task, fence to fence, dragging the darned device in reverse. Around dusk, he came in and slumped in a chair in the kitchen. I put his plate in front of him and asked for a progress report.
"I'm done. I pulled that stupid thing around the whole yard. I had to go backwards to go forward," he complained.
"Yes," I commiserated, bringing him a fork, "life is often like that." I kissed his forehead.
"What's that for?" he grimaced.
"For hard lessons learned."