This is the story of my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day—the humor I managed to find in it, and the lessons I learned along the way.
It was the first day back to school (for two of my three kids) after a long winter break. Waking up early wasn’t easy, but we managed. My husband and 12-year-old son went outside to get into his car to go to work and school. Problem was, my husband’s car wasn’t in the driveway. He walked back into the house, where I had just stepped out of the shower.
“Did I leave my car somewhere?” he asked, stunned. “It’s not in the driveway.”
Once we realized that the car had in fact been stolen, he left in my car to bring my son to school so that he wouldn’t be late. I gathered myself and called 911.
When the police officer arrived, he asked me a few questions. My husband had left the key fob in his car (not the smartest move—we know). The officer was not happy with me. Instead of treating me like the victim, he stood in my kitchen and told me that 90% of stolen cars are because the fobs are left in the vehicles. He grumbled about his job being easier if people would just be smarter. Then he turned to me and said something I’ll never forget.
“If we find your car on the highway, and we stop this guy and draw our guns—that’s our job,” he said. “But if we kill him, that’s morally on you.”
I stood in my kitchen, hair still wet from the shower, pouring cereal for my other two kids. My husband was still not home from dropping off my son, and this police officer with his uniform and his hat, his gun, and his baton firmly in his belt was intimidating me. I looked at him and said, “Sir, I respectfully disagree with you. Was it careless to leave the key in the car? Yes. Are we responsible if someone else decides to break the law? Absolutely not.”
He shook his head and continued with his paperwork.
By the time my husband walked in, I was fuming. I tended to the kids while my husband finished writing up his report. My favorite part of their interaction was when the policeman asked if there were any distinguishing stickers or marks on the car. Watching my husband try to explain what “My Neighbor Totoro” is, and that there was a family of the famous Japanese animated spirit animal on his rear window, will forever be a memory that makes me giggle.
When the policeman was done, I asked my two children to thank him for coming to our house and for helping us find our car. I wasn’t going to let his attitude ruin the respect I want my children to have for law enforcement. As my 9-year-old shook his hand, the officer smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
I dropped my husband off at work and brought my 3-year-old to the JCC. I dropped her off with her class and ran over to my work meeting, also at the JCC. Within 20 minutes, the director got a call on her walkie-talkie that a bomb threat had been called in. I ran to my daughter’s classroom. I got to evacuate with her class. The entire preschool and JCC campus evacuated to a nearby elementary school. The teachers were incredibly calm—they knew exactly what to do. The kids were on an adventure, walking on the sidewalk, looking at nature, and marveling at police cars. When we settled into our assigned classroom at the elementary school, parents started to come pick up their children. It was at that moment that I realized my car was on lockdown in the JCC parking lot and my husband had no car to come pick us up. Thankfully my mom was able to leave work and come get us.
Once we got home, I processed what had happened and I cried. I gave myself a few minutes, and then I got on with calling the insurance company and the dozens of other items on my to-do list.
That night my husband and I ordered pizza for the family and broke out a bottle of my favorite adult beverage. We couldn’t believe the day we had.
Miraculously we got a call the next day that the car had been found. It was found at an apartment complex. A tow truck scanner found it and alerted the police. The car was in perfect condition. The car seat was gone, as were my husband’s sunglasses. Poor Totoro and his family had been scraped off the back of the car. The thief had actually synced his cell phone to the Bluetooth in the car. But here’s my favorite part—there was now a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror. You read that correctly—our thief was a good Catholic. Dear Lord, please protect this stolen car!
I’m not sure what to make of that, or the rest of the experience I had that day. But I am beyond grateful that I was with my daughter and her class during the evacuation. I was able to see firsthand the professionalism and integrity of the entire organization. I was able to communicate with my friends and let them know their kids were safe. I took a selfie of me and a few of the kiddos smiling, and sent it to some mommy friends so that they could see their sweet babies’ faces while they were on their way to pick them up.
Five days later, I was at work when a text came in on my phone. There was another bomb threat called into our JCC (later I learned more than a dozen JCCs were also targeted). While I drove to the school to pick my daughter up, I was able to picture what it looked like when the kids were evacuating. I knew what the inside of the elementary school looked like. I knew the teachers were keeping the kids happy. I knew that the administration and police were doing their jobs and keeping all of them safe. That gave me peace. What I don’t know is why this continues to happen. This world we live in is scary. There are bad guys. There are bad days. Our job is to continue to find the good and the humor in this world. It’s what separates us from them.
My daughter will continue to attend the school at our JCC. Bad things can happen anywhere these days. We won’t be leaving our beloved preschool. We also won’t be leaving our keys in our unlocked car.