Tuesday, November 09, 2004


We have all been guilty of DWP at one time or another, or, if we haven't, we probably will be. It is called Driving While Parenting and it can be an experience one never forgets. To children of a certain age, the fact that Mom or Dad or their surrogate is busy following the rules of the road is a license to misbehave in one way or another. Auto manufacturers know this, so they have created cars with televisions, video games, CD's and Child Safety Locks, all with children in mind.

First, you have to get the little ones into the car. This in itself can be a Gargantuan task, sometimes taking more time than it does to arrive at your destination. If the children are tiny, you have to load enough items in the trunk to outfit a nursery, then lash them into their baby containers, lash the container to the car's seat and try not to strangle the infant with whatever stray belt might be left over.

But babies usually sit or lie still, even though they just might treat you to a loud version of "Scream" as you weave through traffic. That is a side benefit of being hearing impaired, but I have heard others describe this as "ear-splitting" and "dangerous". I could understand the ear-splitting description, but the dangerous part of it escaped me until it was explained that a rattle hurled through the car at a certain velocity can put a dent in the driver's head. It might even put a dent in the car, if the driver swerves in either direction.

Toddlers are great fun getting into a car. Just about when you have convinced them of the great fun you're going to have going to the corner grocery, they decide they don't want to go. So you have to chase them around the car at least twice. Then, when you bundle them into their seats, avoiding kicks to the groin, you carefully buckle them up. That's when the fun begins. You see, you have to belt a toddler into a place where he cannot reach anything. The trouble is, there is no place in an automobile that is a place where nothing can be reached. Toddlers will, if not restrained, roll down windows, open doors, spill any available liquid, spit out candy, unscrew light bulbs, dismantle toys, or spend their times aiming vicious kicks at the back of the front seat. Driving with a toddler requires split vision, one eye on the road, the other on the rear view mirror.

Carseats, after a few months of traveling, often resemble surreal garbage disposals. Stains of varied colors decorate the back and seats. A broken toy rolls around the seat, and a patina of dried milk covers the arms. The occupant sits in this confusion in happy confusion, frequently upending a bottle of milk or juice to add to the decor.

Sometimes children do not improve with age, and their behavior while driving is a good illustration of that. They love to use the car for what is sometimes a favorite hobby, arguing. First, if you have three kids and only two windows, you have the "It's My Turn" debate. By the time you have settled that, you are ready for the next forty complaints. "Ma, Bobby won't give me any candy!" "Ma, Bobby kicked me!" "Ma, Bobby stuck his tongue out at me!" "Ma, Bobby called me stupid!"

So, as you are driving, you keep up a monologue. "Bobby, keep your feet to yourself. Bobby, give your brother some candy right now. Kids, I'm warning you, if you don't stop it, you will be sorry." People in cars passing you stare at you strangely, because you look as though you are babbling to yourself...and, in truth, you are, because the boys in the back seat have forgotten that fight and have gone on to the next.

Girls, I have found, are much quieter passengers than boys, as a rule, unless they are surrounded by brothers, then the arguments become extremely intense. Boys are just not capable of taking long car trips without stirring up a little dust. The only consolation is, if you are going far enough, and if you can live through the repetition of "Are we there yet?" every two miles, they just might fall asleep. Then they sprawl into a variety of positions, arms and legs akimbo and are blissfully quiet.

Parents traveling with children should pack a large amount of paper towels, car games, and munchies. They should plan on frequent stops for any reason the kids can dream up. And, whatever you do, do not take Fido with you. Taking the family dog is like walking across a minefield, extremely nervewracking. Each child will want the dog to sit next to him. Bubble gum will somehow appear stuck to the dog's tail. The dog will wag its tail in someone's face, causing a loud melee. And, either the dog, or one of the kids, will get carsick.

I have very good advice for parents who drive around with their children. Get a babysitter. But, if that isn't possible, one simply has to maintain rigid control, explaining to the children how important it is that they be cooperative. They won't care, but it will impress anyone who is listening. And be careful. It's a jungle out there on the highway, and you're driving through it with a car filled with wild tigers. What you need is nerves of steel. Well, actually what you need is Seigfried and Roy in their heyday! But you have no recourse. Your duty is to get these kids, however unruly, to your destination intact. You can do it. You have to. Postpone the nervous breakdown until after arrival. Just concentrate...and drive.

Blogger Becky said...

I've often thought about this, I've seen women with kids bouncing all over the car; I've heard them say "I can't keep them buckled in!" I've seen cars with stickers on every rear window, I've seen cars with missing chunks of back seat or hamburger stuck to the window, and yes, even french fries wedged above the window, making a creative tassel.

I'm not afraid though - I've learned a few things from my Dad, who is very much like Red Green on that Canadian show. I think the solution to this problem is obvious, and cheap! It'll cost about $1.99 at any hardware store, and comes in silver, black, red or blue for the fashion conscious. It's called duct tape, and it can solve parenting problems in as long as it takes to "rip and stick." I mean, hey, if people can put their kids on leashes and prance them around the mall like animals without being called abusive; surely duct tape would be okay.

6:10 PM  

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