Groundhog Day is really Thanksgiving day for me. Seventeen years ago today while we were living in Maine, Steve’s car lost its purchase on black ice. The ensuing head-on collision happened on the little country road right in front of our neighborhood. One of those worst case scenarios I fretted over in the middle of the night? It was happening in real time. Steve was hurt, and we were miles from anything resembling support. But I was still unaware of all that as I was tucking my two toddlers into bed. After wrestling little warm bodies into footie pajamas, brushing teeth, and reading just one more book, I had just found a moment to breathe when a stranger came to the door.
“There’s been an accident.”
I don’t remember losing my breath or crying or reacting at all really. Some people report such things when disaster arrives on their doorstep. But that was not me. With our closest family and friends over 12 hours away, I had no real options. So I absorbed the words being spoken to me by a man I had never met. This stranger, a young professional on his commute home, was the first man to the scene. Apologetic in his lack of details, he told me that Steve had sustained a head injury and was being taken to the local hospital. As he was not a medical professional, he tried to reassure me that Steve had been alert enough to give him directions to find me (this was pre-cell phone for us). Because he wasn’t a medical professional, that gave me little comfort.
Of the many things I learned from this first crisis of my marriage, I remember these three every Groundhog Day:
1. Not all fears are unfounded.
I was a young mother whose first child was a honeymoon baby. Confidence was a fickle friend. I doubted myself often and loudly. But this crisis taught me to lean into my intuition and trust my abilities. This helped me confess my fears about 4th child to the pediatrician, advocate for my middle son’s dyslexia diagnosis, send my son away for the summer, and hone my senses to parent teens. I handled everything in those first few post-accident days from medical jargon to childcare to family notifications on my two shaky shoulders. If some of it was messy and uncomfortable and scary, well, I cleaned it up, asked for help, or even cried. But I learned that when the world hits hard, I bounce, if not beautifully, at least, passably well. We all survived, but the experience gave me a stronger spine, a more open heart, and a head that trusts that gut a whole lot more.
2. You can make family.
With my social safety net existing of moms I had met a handful of times at the library and playgroup , I felt panicky. My family wouldn’t be able to help me any time soon, and I needed mountains of assistance pronto. So I called one of them who I liked a lot, the one who would become my “Maine Ellen.” I relayed to her the scanty details I had about the accident. Ellen ony knew me as a playgroup buddy, but she didn’t blink an eye.
Register that: she would being taking care of my babies who were both under two for an indefinite period of time. She had two toddlers of her own. I had no idea what I would find when I got to the hospital, and no idea when I would be able to pick them up again. Her “absolutely, no problem, drop them off” was only the most beautiful thing someone has probably said to me EVER. The deep gratitude I still feel today for this gift is hard to measure. I had many things to worry about that day, but my kids were not on that list. “Maine Ellen” and her family have been a beautiful grace note on our life ever since.
3. When you are lucky, be grateful.
Our story has a happy ending of course. Steve is still here, and Ellen is still a big part of my life. We were hugely lucky that day. Steve had a head injury that, in the end, was truly just a laceration ( a big one, but STILL). The what-ifs haunted me for a short while, but then we got back to the lovely, blessed task of just living. With each extra year we have been given and the three children who have joined us since that day, it seems appropriate to take a moment to just sit in my thanks once in awhile or, in this case, once a year.
So every Groundhog Day, I try to really feel that gratitude and be in that moment again, a difficult task for an impatient, slightly hyper puppy of a woman like me. Remembering the gift of Steve that our family still has is important to me. We are largely who we are today because of the love we have shared and grown over the past twenty years. Honoring Ellen and the gift of friendship I received that day is important to me too. She taught me what it really means to show up for someone. I have tried ever since to give even a small measure of that gift to others when I see a need.
Groundhog Day is really no big deal for, well, everyone. For me, however, it’s truly a day of Thanksgiving, a day to remember what was almost lost and to appreciate all that I gained.
Today will never ever be about a groundhog for me. It will be forever and always one of gratitude and love!
But I really hope spring is just around the corner!
Hey! Want to buy our new book? I Just Want to Be Perfect brings together 37 hilarious and relatable essays that showcase the foibles of ordinary women trying to be perfect.
Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”