Summer is not complete without swimming lessons; my kids and I all look forward to them for different reasons. The kids because the instructors are fun. Me because the instructors are also very good, and the lessons are held at an outdoor pool, giving me much-needed R&R as I lounge in the shade watching my kids. There is but one downside: Parking. The pool is nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so the only parking options are in front of homes. The swim school makes it very clear not to park anywhere near the orange cones. It seems like orange cones occupy every convenient spot within any reasonable proximity to the pool, so on that day I was ecstatic to see an opening just two doors down from the pool. Feeling triumphant, I watched as the kids ran to the pool, the thought never crossing my mind that something could be amiss – the parking spot was perhaps a bit too perfect.

One hour later, six water-logged kids (four of mine, two neighbors) headed back to the car. The five older kids ran ahead, me lagging behind because my three-year-old was hanging onto my leg, screaming, insisting that I carry him. I was holding my ground. It wasn’t pretty. As I limped my way towards our car, thinking how happy I was that I only had to drag my son a distance of two houses instead of two blocks, I noticed a woman standing in the shade near our car. More dragging. More screaming. I was resolute, so when the woman approached me and asked if that was my car, I distractedly answered yes, intent on winning the battle.

My son let go of my leg and stood in the middle of the sidewalk, screaming. The woman held up a piece of paper – was that a picture of my van printed on it? Wisely, I decided to give my full attention to the woman standing in front of me.

“You parked right in front of my mailbox. I missed my mail delivery this morning because of you. In fact, I’m on my way over to show this to Jessica [the owner of the swim school] right now. I missed my mail delivery because of you. What’s your name?” This woman was upset. To say the least.

My immediate thoughts: Overreact much? This is so not a big deal. How long has she been standing here, waiting to ambush me? Can’t she see that I”m in the middle of a war with a three-year-old? It’s one day’s worth of mail. One day. Sheesh.

My next thoughts: Breathe. Think. Put yourself in her shoes. This swim school has been operating since 1978. How many times has this happened to her? Probably too many to count. I very well could be the proverbial straw. Breathe again.

I had to raise my voice so she could hear me over my son’s screams, “My name is Susie. I am so, so sorry. I was in a hurry, and didn’t even think about it.”

“It looks like someone moved the cone, but I still missed my mail delivery.”

I reluctantly ceded victory to my son and picked him up. “If the cone had been there, I definitely wouldn’t have parked there, but it’s still completely my fault and I’m so sorry. This must happen to you all the time.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

The woman turned slightly and began weeding, “Yeah, it does.” We were now both at a loss for words. At a final attempt at reconciliation, I added, “Can I go pick up your mail for you at the post office later this afternoon?”

“No, you’re fine. You’re fine.”

But I wasn’t. Tears fell as I drove home. Why hadn’t I realized that the cones were in front of mailboxes? What an idiot. I didn’t feel like my apology had been enough, but what would be? It bothered me most of the day. Finally, at the grocery store later in the afternoon, I had an idea.

About four PM, I knocked on the woman’s door with a gift bag in hand. She didn’t answer, so I left it on the porch. The card in the bag said something like this:

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to have an insensitive idiot such as myself park in front of your mailbox, preventing your mail delivery.
To ease the sting of my actions, please accept:
The Plant: You can look at it to block out the image of my car in front of your mailbox.
The Chocolate: You can eat it to get the bad taste out of your mouth when you think of me.
The Magazine: You can read it until your real mail is delivered tomorrow, and it will be, because I WON’T be parked in front of your mailbox!
I Am Truly Sorry. Susie Angerbauer

It wasn’t much, but it was more than nothing, and the knot I had had in my stomach all day finally relaxed.

A few hours later, I heard the following voice mail message, “This is Lorraine, the crazy swimming pool neighbor. You are too sweet and nice. I was thinking after you left how hard and stressful it was for me when my kids were little. And your gift was just too much. I want to make sure you always have a good place to park, so please park in my driveway behind the Subaru until your swim lessons are over.”

And that is how I obtained The Perfect Parking Spot.