Once we turned 16 (or whatever age) and got a driver’s license, our world opened up. The ability to drive ourselves was the first step towards independence. We were no longer dependent on our parents or friends for a ride. We could go anywhere we wanted and do anything we wanted, within reason. The car was our ticket to employment, hanging out with our friends, the ability to go out on dates, and if we were lucky, it was a mobile bedroom. The car also allowed us to make really stupid mistakes, and hopefully recover from them.
As we got older, the car became a sanctuary. It was a place that we could listen to our own music, drive slightly faster than you should, decompress after work, ponder the meaning of life, solve the world’s problems (or at least your favorite sports team’s problems), and, of course, yell at the idiots in the other cars that obviously don’t understand the rules of the road. The yelling was always better if obscenities and insults were involved.
Now we have kids and that private world we enjoyed is quickly disappearing. The car of your youth has been replaced with something more sensible (i.e. 56 Chevy to 87 T-Bird to 02 Honda CRV). Here are several indicators that your car is no longer a sanctuary:
1. Car seats
You have one or more car seats installed in your vehicle of choice, and you have to remove some or all of them if you want to carry more than two people over the age of 5. Just hope your trunk is big enough to store the seats for a few hours. Then you get the joy of reinstalling them. Here is a helpful hint when reinstalling the car seats – pull the straps tight before you take the seat out. That way, when you reinstall it, there is little chance of the tightening strap getting caught on something.
2. Dirt and grime
Your car used to be clean and smell like dew drops gathering at the end of pine needles along a mountain stream. Okay, maybe not, but it could have. Now your car smells pretty unpleasant with the remains of happy meals, spilled apple juice, smashed crackers, granola bar crumbs, and melted gummy bears on the floors and seats. Not to mention the greasy fingerprints all over the windows. And god help you if you forgot to take that dirty diaper out of the trunk last week.
3. Child locks
You leave something in the back seat of the car, so you go through the back door to get it. The door accidently closes on you (or you close it because of weather). Then, when you try to exit your car, you can’t open the door. “DAMN CHILD LOCKS” you curse. Yep, when you have kids, inevitably you turn the child locks on, so they can’t open the door and dart into traffic or busy parking lot. But you are now stuck in the back seat. If you are an ex-circus performer, you can crawl over the front seats and get out the front door, or you can call your spouse to let you out. Anyway, there should be enough McDonalds french fries, gold fish crackers, and half full juice boxes scattered about to sustain you for a good week. This feature is also enjoyable when you have friends or family in the back seat. You get to play chauffer, and let the good sir or madam out of the car. Make sure they tip you when you let them out. Better yet, before you let them out. A warning though, you will probably get dirty looks from your partner if you leave your in-laws stuck in the car, even if you crack the window for them.
4. The music
You turn on your car and it is no longer the radio is no longer playing Megadeath, ACDC, Skynard, Flavor Flav, or whoever your favorite band is, nor are you listening to the latest rant by Lewis Black. The sound coming out of the speakers is Wheels on the Bus or some Disney song. The Pandora on your Smartphone is set to Toddler Radio as opposed to Death Metal of the 80’s. This is really embarrassing when you let other adults into the car (after the child seats are removed, of course) and the first thing they hear is Mickey singing the Clubhouse song. When this happens, just sit back and savor the moment like you are listening to a operatic solo, shushing anybody who speaks. When it is over, say, with a straight face, “Sorry, that song just speaks to me.” Along these lines, you might want to think about the things your favorite morning radio show are saying. (BTW – I tried to find a better adult music CD, but nearly all my CD’s were converted to mp3s and sold).
5. The constant noise from the back seat
In the process of navigating traffic, you are trying to listen to your GPS to get directions to your kid’s soccer/basketball/t-ball/ballet practice, and this is the time that your son decides to shout out, “SLUG BUG ORANGE AND BLACK!!!!!” Or the baby starts crying (probably because the older sibling just took something away from her), or the two kids start arguing (“Stop touching me!”), or the all important question of the year, “Hey Daddy, guess what I just stuck in my nose?” Before, you could sit in your car in silence or listen to music, NPR, or whatever. Now, it is constant questions, statements, their own singing (i.e. the one line of a song, over, and over, and over again).
6. “Daddy, what’s a jackass?”
“Well son, it means that Daddy needs to watch his language when he drives.” Oh man, don’t you feel like a dolt when that happens. I know I do. Somebody, an obvious jackass, cuts you off, or won’t let you over, or just doesn’t understand the finer points of driving a car, and you let them know just how appreciative you are of their kindness. Again, typically with a burst of swear words and insults directed at their mother, questioning the legitimacy of their birth, or mentioning some of the deviant acts they might perform on farm animals. In the middle of this tirade, accompanied by lots of arm movements and obscene gesture, you hear a tiny voice from the back of the car, “Daddy, how can that lady be the son of a motherless goat?” It is a difficult question to answer. So to avoid having your son repeat your wonderful soliloquy to their classmates or teacher, you need to start watching what you say while you drive. So you can A) bite your tongue whenever some idiot does something stupid; B) thank them profusely in your most sarcastic tone and congratulate them on their newly acquired learner’s permit; or C) come up with new words to replace swear words (shoot, fudge, etc.). I also think with option C, if you can swear in another language that might be okay, preferably an obscure language. Your child may not get away with swearing in Spanish at school, but Swahili could work.
What does this all mean? It means that you are on the road to being a family man. One thing you to remember is that you probably annoyed your parents when you were a kid, and they let you live. It is just a car after all, and you will get some time in it to yourself, and that time will be more meaningful. A trip to the hardware store is a perfect excuse, “Sorry honey, I can’t take the kids, I won’t be able to get the plywood in the back with the car seats installed.” You can turn up the metal, swear at drivers, maybe even downshift into the corners. But, when you get home, you need to build something with said plywood, but that is another post.