There is no doubt that I am a rule follower. Never a detention in school. Never a late homework assignment. I was never marked tardy (to my knowledge). I don’t jaywalk. When we pick blueberries and the kiddos eat some while picking, I insist the blueberry farm take an extra dollar or two—and by the looks on the cashiers’ faces, they must think I am nuts. Last year when I had library books overdue by a day, I had such an anxious tummy at being so much of a delinquent that I was nervous the whole time in the line to pay my fee and apologized so much that I probably came off crazy.

In 12th grade, I was one of the few students who came to school on Senior Ditch Day.

I’m by no means a blind rule follower, though. Rules that serve a good purpose and have reason behind them—those are my kind of rules. There are times when rules do need to be broken and there are moments when I have a rebel heart and an even more rebellious mind. It’s fair to say, though, that I fall much more onto the law and order side of the spectrum when it comes to rules that I believe should exist.

And that is why my stomach is so much in knots right now that I will be lucky if I can manage to eat a full dinner tonight. I am sure I’m going to wake with a start tomorrow morning and feel a cold pall wash over me when I remember…

After seventeen years of a clean driving record, I received my first EVER speeding ticket late this afternoon. Fourty-four in a 30 MPH zone. I did catch myself and started to brake, but it was too late… There were two motorcycle policemen waiting at the bottom of a hill, and I got what was coming to me.

That feeling of seeing police lights in your rearview mirror? I felt like someone ripped my stomach out and squished my lungs.

The officer, Officer R, was so completely nice though. My first thought was that he must be so disappointed in me and that I would be appalling to his very sight, but he was so professional and kind. I shook so much when fumbling for my license, registration, and insurance that my hands were trembling, and I apologized, “I’m so sorry…I am so nervous!” He could tell, probably because I also told him, that I was so embarrassed. He took extra time to explain how the ticket process worked and what to do when I received it later in the mail—especially when he saw my face go pale when he mentioned the court date (I guess people don’t have to go in! What do I know?)

Then as he was getting ready to go, he said, “Thank you for being so understanding.” And I was surprised and said, “No, thank YOU! It’s all my fault.” He even waved to the kiddos, and my mom and I said, “See the kind policeman?” It got me thinking that officers must have a difficult job, because they never know what brand of crazy they might encounter when they pull someone over, you know? I bet all kinds of people make excuses for themselves or even get mad and turn responsibility outward. I just believe that when you do make a mistake and mess up, you have to own it. He was doing his job. The rule was clear, and I broke it. There’s no discussion about, or excuse for, that—and that is why my perfectionistic side is struggling so much right now.

After he left, I burst into tears and called my husband. My fear that he would be as disappointed in me as I am in myself was completely unfounded. He was so sweet, actually. He could hear how bad I felt, and he said slowly but not patronizingly, “Okaaaaaaay. It’s a ticket. That happens to people when they drive for a long time. You will just deal with it.” I think he was not sure why I was at the level of crying freak-out that I was at, at that moment.

Much of my life journey has been about learning how to handle my mistakes—big and small—of which there have been many. I internalize and self-criticize so much on a daily basis, even moreso when I have made an error. This trait has been completely helpful at many times in my life (academics) and completely unhelpful at others. I was horrified, at first, that Katie and Eric were seeing me undergo the consequences of making an error—not because I want them to think I am perfect (that’s already out the window!), but because I want them someday to be proud of me.

But then I got to thinking.

I’m a silver lining kind of gal.

Although I am going to beat myself up over this ticket for many days, maybe it is not all bad:

1. Katie and Eric got to see how a parent handles receiving a real consequence for her actions. They got to see that parent admit fault right away and take accountability without making excuses for behavior. They got to witness my tears of embarrassment and understand that everyone of every age makes mistakes they wish they hadn’t made. They get to see my process for taking ownership and being okay after that process takes place.

2. A ticket now is a reminder to be careful. Maybe getting this ticket today means that I will be less aggressive and pay more attention in the future. In the past year with all the driving to Orange County and San Diego County, I know, I’ve gone from being a timid driver to being a more assertive driver than I’ve ever been. I know that I do push the speed limit on the freeway. I am more often in the fast lane than not, which is completely different from how I used to be. A reminder to be more cautious and defensive is good, especially with children in the car and other drivers on the road.

3. For the past seventeen years I have been terrified of getting a ticket every time I get in the car. Now I am even more terrified because getting more than one can be really bad for the record, but at least I am not as gut-wrenchingly scared of the first one anymore. (Silver lining? Stretch?)

4. Life goes on. As bad as the feeling is of having to face an error, at this point in my life I have strong coping mechanisms. Yes, I am still going to be hard on myself…but I also know how to draw a line at wallowing in the anxiety and how to use my mistakes to be better and to grow. I know how to look for the good. I know how to write this ticket, this symbol of a mistake, into my narrative and how to accept it.

But there it is. My first ticket. When I got home, I called out, “Hi honey! The criminal is home!” Bill just shook his head. He’s been nothing but gentle and sweet about it, even saying that he could have easily gotten a ticket today himself. He’s been asking me to think about it probabilistically…

True, true. Still, if I were diligent and fully rule-abiding, probability would be more on my side. Right?

So why undergo the public humiliation of writing this blog? After all, I could have kept it to myself… Except, I’m very much an open book. I process nearly everything in my life through writing, both public and private. Letting the words come out is the way I make sense of the world. A second, equally important reason is that I felt I had to in order to meet my standard of authenticity. I write often about my dominant emotion, and my dominant emotion for the day is definitely shame. How we get through our embarrassing moments is so much of who we are as people.  Felt shame lately? I’m right there with you!

Let me just say, I hope I never NEVER see flashing lights in my mirror again.

Also: the anticipation of waiting for the actual ticket to come in the mail and going through the steps of taking the payment to the courthouse and doing traffic school online—well, that anticipation, for me, is probably just about the WORST punishment that could be enacted here. If I could take care of it all tomorrow and get it done, that would be one thing; but the fact that I have to live with this over my head for awhile is a nightmare! Definitely a fully-felt consequence!

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