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Tuesday, December 19, 2006  

Backseat Driving

Here’s the nine millionth change in a parent’s life that nobody tells you about: when you go shopping with just the toddler, you don’t look for a parking spot close to the door. You look for a parking spot next to where the shopping carts are. That way when you come out you can unload your stuff and the kid into the car at the same time, and then park the cart without going more than two feet away. Sometimes I even change it up and park the cart, then take the kid out and carry him the two feet back to the car with me. Just because I’m a parent doesn’t mean I’m not still open to the occasional adventure.

Last week at Home Depot, M. Small got to ride in the store’s “Race Cart,” which is a huge shopping cart shaped like a race car in which the passenger sits facing forward and gets to turn a steering wheel. The steering wheel doesn’t actually steer the cart, which is good because otherwise he and I would probably be wandering the tarmac at the airport right now. Any actual steering he gets to do is purely suggestion, as in “How ‘bout let’s go over there.” These suggestions are not legally binding, which is why I’m not posting this from Home Depot’s ceiling fan section.

So anyway. M. Small and I finish up, ring out, and head back out to the car. I put him in his car seat first. Thanks for being good in the store, kisses, yada yada. He’s all strapped in nice and tight. Then I load two gallons of hallway paint, a new work light, spare bulbs for it, and four gallons of primer into the shotgun seat and head out. “Off we go!” M. Small announces from behind me, as is the habit he’s picked up from his giant dork of a father. Somehow it’s cooler when he does it.

He’s still singing his extremely abbreviated versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Coming Town” when I get on the freeway, which is fairly backed up. Not rush hour-backed up, but worse than it should be at quarter to seven. Come to find out that right before our exit, a car had stalled in the middle of three lanes.
After I’d negotiated the traffic snarl and changed freeways, I stole a glance in the child mirror. M. Small had fallen silent, and I wanted to see if he was asleep. Except I couldn’t see him at all. The car seat looked empty.

Now, I knew I’d put him in the car. I knew I’d been talking to him since leaving, and that he had talked back, and we hadn't stopped since. I knew it was dark, since we were on a section of freeway that for some reason doesn’t have many lights, and that he was wearing a black coat and a black hat which, if he simply put his head down, could conspire to make him invisible. And worst-case scenario, if I had left him in the parking lot five minutes before, chances were that someone had fallen in love with him and given him a good home. But all of these reassuring thoughts were easily outrun by the cold spear of panic that impaled my entire body, and by the hand I shot behind me to grope for a T8-sized foot to wiggle. I found it, and M. Small obligingly made himself visible again by raising his head, but the terror took a little bit longer to go away entirely. Actually, I think some of it is still here.

A not entirely dissimilar thing happened to Trash last week, too. She was driving him home from her dad’s house when suddenly there was a rush of air and the car was filled with noise and wind. Her first thought was that he had somehow escaped his safety restraints and stepped right out onto the freeway, but he had merely found the switch for the back window on his side of the car and done the natural thing. Trash rolled the window back up from the driver’s seat, but M. Small rolled it back down. They dueled thusly for a minute, until Trash found the switch that disables the back seat window controls. Now the sound of a humming window motor and fifty-mile-per-hour winds were replaced by a futile clicking as M. Small tried to figure out why his new toy had broken. But at least while that was going on, Trash knew he was still in the car.

It’ll be so much less stressful when he can do all the driving, thus freeing us up as passengers to keep an eye on him at all times.

posted by M. Giant 8:26 PM 2 comments

2 Comments:

Ha! Hilarious post.

The other day I was in the parking lot at Walmart, where I watched a mother struggling to load her trunk as her cart (unbeknownst to her) began slowly rolling down the lane (with child still in it). It's witnessing those little glimpses of parenthood that makes me suspect I'll never be ready for it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 20, 2006 at 12:30 PM  

The cart chute proximal parking thing was something my mother pointed out to me while I was expecting, so I've been doing that since our little one arrived. I agree that should be standard-issue new parent advice.

By Blogger Claudia, at December 22, 2006 at 8:49 AM  

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