Opportunities to Learn Come From Odd Places

Kansas Viewpoint

Granddaughter behind the wheel equals panic; or maybe not in very slow, very controlled situation

Published on: November 6, 2013

Sometimes there are opportunities to learn about life that just appear out of nowhere.

On Wednesday, I took a few grandkids with me to take pictures for the December magazine at a Christmas tree farm. What can go wrong, right? Kids, Christmas trees, lots of space, long distance from roads?

So, I’m checking out the trees, talking to the owner about the lingering effects of two years of drought and how a tree farmer goes about helping his trees recover when we hear “Oh, No! Oh, Help! Oh, Dear!” from behind us.

Turning around, we discover that 10-year-old Alyssa decided to sit behind the wheel of the golf cart and “pretend” to drive. However, the keys were in the ignition and when she stepped on the accelerator, she was no longer pretending, she was experiencing the real thing.

OOPS: Alyssa climbs out of the golf cart after hitting a tree on the Delp Christmas Tree Farm at St. John
OOPS: Alyssa climbs out of the golf cart after hitting a tree on the Delp Christmas Tree Farm at St. John

She was just hanging onto the wheel as the cart gently glided into a young pine tree and stopped. Her two-year-old brother, Dylan, bless his little heart, had been running beside the cart, but when he saw the impact, immediately fled the scene. He turned to me:  “It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.”

And in the background, we hear 6-year-old Jackson saying, “I was smelling the needles. I don’t think we should let Alyssa drive.”

The farm owner, Tony Delp, retrieves the keys with an “I think I should hold onto these” and we back the cart away from the tree – very low speed, no damage, no problem.

But my grandma heart says “This could have been a disaster. How could I have been so careless? Why didn’t I notice the keys were in the ignition?”

Reality: We stepped out of the cart to take pictures. We were 10 feet away. The kids were running around the field. Nobody expected her to get behind the wheel. Given our proximity, the level of disaster that occurred was roughly the maximum that could have resulted.

Grandma heart: All the more reason to always be watching every detail.

Reality: You can’t control every nuance of every situation. This was an ELECTRIC golf cart. It is slower than the battery-operated Barbie Jeep you thought it was OK to get her for a Christmas present when she was 6. Get over it.

While I am trying to sort out how I feel, Tony, a grandfather himself, with the calm demeanor that many a farmer has used to teach children, climbs into the cart and turns to Alyssa.

“Would you like to drive us back to the office?” he says. “I will sit right here and control the speed and help you stay on the road.”

Alyssa has been near tears knowing she screwed up. Now she is all smiles. “Oh, yeah!” she says. “I want to drive.” Dylan says, “I’m holding on tight,” and Jackson echoes “Me, too.”

And so Alyssa drives. She tends to turn right. Patiently, Tony shows her to hold the wheel steady when she doesn’t want to turn. When we get to the main road back to the office, he says, “Now, turn the wheel right and get us on the road. Now straighten up.”

She does!! She follows directions precisely. She smiles. “This is easy,” she says.

Grandma heart: Not so fast. Not that easy. How do I remind you that you hit a tree? What if it had been a real car? What if you had been going 50 mph instead of 2?

Reality: Easy, grandma. She has six more years.