The youngster in the back-seat car seat might have been en route to the first day of school, but already was learning along the way. No teacher was likely to help the child unlearn the morning's lessons.
I could only suppose that the car's driver was the child's mother. Regardless, she was the responsible adult who was instilling values that recent morning in another school district.
Perhaps she had left the house a few minutes late because she had overslept or had been otherwise delayed. Whatever the reason for her hurry, her driving had gone beyond nuisance to hazard. Her car changed lanes a couple times as she sped along outbound Washington Road, past the IHOP and the golf course. In my rear view mirror, I could see the car nearing mine.
I have this antiquated tendency to read and respect the numbers printed on the rectangular metal signs on the roadside. But the driver of the blue car that approached closer and closer apparently was not bound by such formalities. So the gap between our cars grew shorter and shorter.
I also am afflicted with this notion that green, yellow and red traffic lights have a meaning beyond the aesthetic. That notion, too, was lost on the driver behind me. I doubt that the light at Eisenhower Drive was green or yellow when she passed it. I can testify that the light at Berckmans Road was no longer yellow; I re-accelerated and sped through as a matter of survival.
You can't blame her for not seeing the speed limit signs or the traffic lights. Her attention was devoted to the music to which she bounced and nodded.
I must have missed that chapter in the driver's manual.
I tapped my brake lights. Aha, she noticed that. Now, I cannot pretend to read lips as I race for my life and stare into a mirror toward a dimly lighted car. But I definitely can read the silhouette of a gesture. The child in the car seat could see the greeting, too. Yet another lesson was being absorbed before the first school bell had rung.
I followed the left-turn lane and waited for a green arrow toward Boy Scout Road and breakfast. She followed. To my delight, I learned that she is in fact familiar with the concept of brakes.
To my further delight, she was not headed for the same golden arches that morning.
Somewhere farther along that stretch of road, it is likely that a caregiver or teacher took charge of that child that morning. That person had the privilege of sharing security, knowledge and thoughts with a child.
It is unfair to expect that teacher to also unteach the lessons of the morning, such as the colorful description of the bad man who hit his brakes.
As classes begin today in this school district, we need to be grateful for all the children, for all the parents who set excellent examples for their children and for all the educators who build on the parents' good work.
We need to be forgiving of drivers who tap their brakes out of an antiquated, selfish desire for survival.
And we all need to remember that learning happens 24 hours a day, by diligent study and by casual observation.
Most of all, we need to get those children to and from school or preschool safely, even it means turning down the music.