Thursday, January 21, 2010

Driving Under the (Cellular) Influence

This week's Won't You Be My Neighbor post is brought to you by Sarah of Momalom. I found Sarah's (and her sister Jen's) writing only a few months ago, and have been impressed by the poignancy and sincerity of their words every week since. Stop won't be sorry!

Texting while driving is like downing five shots of tequila before you get in the car.

This is what I heard as I turned on my computer and began the number-churning business of my work day.

I chuckled to myself. That’s ridiculous, I thought. If only you knew what I did in my car…

Texting while driving is indeed a huge issue these days. It’s risky and dangerous. People have died due to their own carelessness on the phone—talking and texting alike—and due to the carelessness of others. Just the other day I was at the hair salon chatting it up with Maryjean about strip clubs and credit-card debt and texting while driving. She told me how she recently indulged herself on a day off work by watching Oprah. And Oprah
had an entire show on … you guessed it … texting while driving.

I’m sure it was an influential show. I’m sure it was quintessential Oprah: making you think and helping you see a bigger picture. I’m sure it was a deterrent to whipping out the cell next time you’re on the highway and you hear that little chime. Someone needs something; someone is thinking of me; someone has a question. Must it be answered right at that very moment? Well, no. No, I suppose not. Not if the lives of the other people on the road, and your life, and the lives of the little people in your car are at risk if you do.

Oh, the little people. They are the most important ones, aren’t they? We mothers worry about the little people in our cars. They are tiny. They are dependent. They are everything to us. Our whole world. And then some. So, let me just take this dangerous driving subject to another level. If we want to keep these little people—and ourselves, and those who share the road—safe, perhaps we shouldn’t be driving with the little people in the car to begin with.

Forget about texting or sexting, driving with kids is probably the most dangerous thing I have ever done on the road. And I should probably add that I have done some mighty stupid and seriously risky things while in a moving car. Some of them might even involve, um, things of a sexual nature. (Pre-kids; but did I really need to make that clear?) I wouldn’t be fool enough to mount a stick shift now in my motherhood days—oh my,
did I just say that? However, I have NO CHOICE about driving my children around and around, back and forth, to and from their activities, on errands, to Grandma’s house and home again.

So let me just talk about what goes on in the car when there are three angelic little boys sitting in the back seats. Let me give this thesis some backbone.

Big kid is 7. He rides in the third row of my ailing minivan. He can pretty much take care of himself. That is, he can open his bag of snacks and buckle his seat belt, he can catch the candy AND the dirty looks I throw his way. But there are questions—that I am expected to answer. And there is babble. And the two are enough to distract even the most focused individual to daydreaming of a faraway place. To thinking of Hawaii instead
of making a left turn on Park Road. Shit, I’m missing my turn! Damn, we’re going to be late! OK, blue Honda, I’m cutting you off. Sorry! Turn complete. And the babble continues. A question hangs in the air still waiting to be answered. “Mom, did you hear me…can I have some gum?”

One example down, are you convinced? No? Don’t worry. I haven’t even gotten to the wee little ones. The boys under 3. And the fighting. And the screaming. And the stuff that makes me go out of my mind when I am alone in the car with three kids.

What about the reaching behind the seat to pick up a fallen toy, a dropped blankie, or to grab a snack from the overstuffed and disorganized diaper bag? What about opening these snacks while doing 70 on the highway and putting them in bowls and wedging them in between a little thigh and the edge of a car seat? Reeeeeaching around behind my own seat and bending my arm in ways it shouldn’t go, straining and contorting myself just to get that kid the lollipop so he’ll shut up long enough to let me remember where
you the heck I am driving. Oh, right, to the pool. Wait, no, the playground. Dammit, we are out of milk, we’ll have to stop! Oh joy! A quick errand with three kids? Anything.But.Quick.

What else? They fight. The 2-year-old hits the 1-year-old, and the 1-year-old hits back. Then the 7-year-old complains it’s loud, which makes the 2-year-old scream even louder. This causes the 1-year-old to cry, cry, cry, which compels the 7-year-old to hit the back of the littlest’s seat over and over and THEN? Then I am crying and hoping that a little Black Eyed Peas will do the trick, since “I Gotta Feeling” is the family favorite
song these days. So the radio goes on but the kids don’t respond as hoped. They are railing against the music and just want to fight.

They thrive off the fight. And I wither. Until I’ve had enough and I stop the car. SOMEONE is getting out. And it should probably just be me—for a few breaths, at least. But I know if I leave them in there they will only continue the screaming, fighting, hitting. And even if I close the doors and windows and sit perched on the curb on the verge of tears (yes, I’ve tried), I will still hear them.

So I remove the biggest, baddest offender.

And now where am I? Any better off? No. I am on the side of the road. Two kids in a car. One out. Other cars whizzing past. Have I lost my mind? It’s only another 20 minutes home. 10 minutes. 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter. I should be able to make it. I’m the mother, after all. I’m THE MOTHER.

But most days I can’t take it. And I fiddle with my phone to distract me from the kids. I check my e-mail. I text. I talk. I read a blog post at a stop light. I’m guilty. Very very guilty. But I’m pretty sure that it’s nothing compared to five shots of tequila. I should
know, I’ve done that, too.

So, call me a bad mommy. Irresponsible. Tell me I’m putting my kids’ lives at jeopardy. Breaking the LAW, even. Go ahead. It’s nothing I haven’t thought before.

But nobody tells you. Nobody tells you how hard it will be just to get your kids dressed and in the car and off to school. Nobody tells you that a 10-minute car ride at the end of the day might just break you. So you do what you have to do. They go to daycare in pajamas. You give them lollipops at 8 a.m. You promise them ice cream from a fast food
drive through. You text your best friend. You check your e-mail. You call your sister in the middle of the madness and chat about your day—because SHE doesn’t care if there are screaming kids in the background. You have both learned to ignore it. And ignoring it is a little easier if you have someone else there to keep you in the real world.

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