If you’re interested in seeing my family at its absolute worst, I recommend getting in a car with us for five minutes. Before we even start the ignition, there’s usually a heated kid-dispute over the rights to their identical car seats. The first child to arrive chooses his seat and then, when the second child is done playing with a rock or staring at a fern (because he knows we’re in a hurry), he looks to see which seat is already occupied and invariably chooses that one as his desired throne. If our older son has the seat first, his younger brother simply attempts to sit on top of him, but if the younger nabs it first, his older sibling claims to have been the victim of a systematic injustice, which has hitherto prevented him from ever having sat in that seat and argues firmly that it’s up to us, his mother and father – acting as a de facto war crimes tribunal — to do the right thing by evicting its current occupant and exiling him to the identical seat 16 inches away. We’re considering assigned seats and perhaps issuing boarding passes.
Once they’re seated and strapped in like astronauts, the fighting over THINGS ensues. They frequently want to bring a special item with them into the car, and it’s always something inane like a paint brush, a pretzel, a paper towel roll, or a harmonica. Inside the house, a random doorknob might go unnoticed, but in a sibling’s hand in a car seat, that doorknob takes on the value of one million cookies. Since they can’t quite reach each other, all attempts at physical grabbing are replaced by yelling, and the throwing of less valuable items. An empty Target bag, for instance, might be thrown at the face of a brother holding a slide whistle, or a fist full of cheddar bunny crumbs could be flung in the general direction of he who holds the legendary packing peanut.
Everything becomes even more interesting once the car starts moving (yes, all this occurred while still in the driveway). I usually drive because, like a real man, I get nauseous in the passenger seat. I believe there are women in the world who are able to remain silent when confronted with an unfounded concern for their safety. My wife is not one of those women. To her defense, I’m a vaguely inattentive driver, but given the amount of instruction she provides about interior temperature, turning radius, speed, tailgating and windshield cleanliness, one might be tricked into thinking I’m blind, or have the hand-eye coordination of a walrus pup. But I can’t really complain about that. Any time I do, she responds with, “Well, I’m sorry, but I’m just concerned about the safety of our children,” and there is no arguing with that. Even, “Yes, so am I” doesn’t seem to be adequate. Occasionally, when I’m feeling weak, I simply opt for the nausea.
By this time we’ve gone about three or four blocks, so it’s time for some window fighting. One kid wants his up, and the other wants his down. When I put one of them up, the other wants his down, and so on. Yes, I have a lock in the front but usually can’t apply it because Lindsay has a bizarre neurological allergy to what I’ve termed “intra-vehicular vibration.” Are you familiar with the aural air jitters that occur when some windows in a car are open and others aren’t? That sensation makes her completely insane, to the point that when it happens, she just starts screaming “NO NO NO NO NO NO.” So, if the windows are locked, the vibrations are my fault, and I’m usually in enough trouble for not using my turn signal, or failing to “gun it” through a yellow light to add something else to the list.
Meanwhile, amidst the dog fight in the backseat, both kids have somehow managed to take off their shoes and socks, so that when we arrive at our destination, we have to get them dressed again as they smirk at us. Then, frequently, the youngest one will refuse to exit the car, opting instead to climb in the front seat to turn on all the interior lights and put three DVDs in the single DVD player. After pulling him out against his will, we have to convince him to sit down in a shopping cart while we purchase food — 50% of which he eats before we’ve paid for it.
Then we do it all over again on the ride home only this time, everyone’s a little more tired. Maybe we should just leave them in the car for a day and let them sort it all out themselves. With the windows cracked, of course.