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Martin: Dropping Off The Kids

11/30/09 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) Last Friday, many people around the country participated in the second annual National Day of Listening - an event that reminded commentator Mike Martin of a story often told by his wife's family in France.

(MARTIN) During the holidays many families still sit down to an old-fashioned meal, pass dishes around the table, and tell stories. But in many French families, dinner usually lasts for hours, and family legends are recounted and debated for even longer.  

The story that follows is one of my French in-laws' favorites, though the details vary widely, depending on who tells it. I like to call it "The Bouncing Baby Boy" or "Dropping Off the Kids."

It was school vacation, and my mother-in-law, Françoise, had taken her three children to the zoo. She was driving them home in her little Renault, with Magali, the eldest, sitting in the front, and Emmanuel and Karine, both toddlers, sitting on the wide bench backseat. In France, seatbelts for the backseat weren't required by law until 1990, so you can imagine the two little kids sliding to and fro in the back, maybe even hanging onto each other when the car took sharp corners.

Suddenly, Françoise noticed the driver behind her was in a high state of agitation. He was honking insistently, pulling up close to her car, and waving his arms in the air. Figuring he was suffering from some kind of road rage - quite common in France - she drove on. Finally, it occurred to her that he was trying to get her attention, and that it might be important, so she pulled over.

To her amazement, the driver got out of his car with her son Emmanuel in his arms. Until that moment, she had believed Emmanuel to be in the back seat with his little sister. Evidently, he'd managed to open the car door and popped out while the car was still moving.

The driver behind her had witnessed a little blond boy fall out of a moving car, which drove on, oblivious to his fate. The driver quickly picked him out of the ditch where Emmanuel had landed and drove after the car. He handed Françoise's son back to her and went on his way.

Emmanuel didn't have a scratch on him.

I don't know if this story is a family favorite because it shows how hard it is to take care of three little kids; or that children are incredibly resilient; or that a generation ago, before seatbelt laws and non-smoking ordinances, things were a little looser, a little more interesting.

Or maybe it's just because it's a really good story.

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