On our way back to the car after an hour of outdoor swimming lessons, my 3-year-old son latched himself onto my leg and began screaming, figuring he’d had enough walking for the day. I figured he hadn’t, so I limped along with my son attached to my leg while the other kids in my car pool ran ahead. I was so happy that I had landed the perfect parking spot an hour earlier.
In an effort to maintain the goodwill of its residential neighbors, the swimming school asks that parents avoid orange cones when parking. I usually have to park at least three or four blocks away, but that morning I had been delighted to find an open space two doors down.
I was only a few yards away from the van, still dragging my screaming son, when a woman materialized at my side asking me if “that” — pointing to my van — was my car. I distractedly answered yes, intent on winning the battle of wills with my son.
As my son let go of my leg and proceeded to scream even louder, the woman held up a piece of paper onto which she had printed a large picture of my van.
It was time to give this woman my full attention.
She raised her voice, presumably to be heard over my screaming son, “You parked in front of my mailbox and I missed my mail delivery this morning because of you. I’m heading over to show this picture to (the owner of the swimming school) right now. What’s your name?”
This woman was upset, to put it quite mildly.
Speechless, I leaned down to pick up my son and buy myself time to wrap my head around what had just happened. I was counting to 10 before reacting.
There had been no orange cone, of that I was certain. Seriously, what was her problem? I don’t go ballistic when someone parks in front of my mailbox. Printing a picture of my van and reporting me over one day’s worth of mail seemed a little over-the-top.
But then it hit me how often this must have happened to this woman over the years. How many times had she missed her mail delivery because of someone like me? I could very well be the proverbial straw.
So I straightened back up, took a deep breath and said, “My name is Susie. I am so, so sorry. I was in a hurry and there was no cone, but it’s still completely my fault.”
“This must happen to you all the time.”
The woman turned away slightly, “It does.”
We were now both at a loss for words. I added, “Can I go pick up your mail at the post office later this afternoon?”
“No, you’re fine.”
But I wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t sure she was either. I thought about it all day and finally had an idea. Later that afternoon, I left a gift bag on the woman’s porch. The card said something like this:
“I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to have an insensitive idiot park in front of your mailbox, preventing your mail delivery. Here are a few items to ease the sting of my actions. You can look at the plant to block out the image of my car in front of your mailbox, eat the chocolate to get the bad taste out of your mouth when you think of me, and read the magazine until your real mail is delivered tomorrow. I am truly sorry.”
I heard the following voice mail message later that evening, “This is Ellen (name has been changed), the crazy swimming pool neighbor. You are sweet. I was thinking after you left how hard and stressful it was at times 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 until your swimming lessons are over.”
And that is how I obtained the perfect parking spot.