Car-pe Diem

When Joshua was born, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children sit in a rear-facing car seat until their first birthday. Shortly before his first birthday, they changed their recommendation to two years, rather than one. We kept our 5th-percentile-for-height-and-weight toddler in his car seat as long as we could, but even his runty legs were too long to be contained in the car seat cocoon until his second birthday. So, being the Worst Parents Ever* that we are, we turned him around to face the world.

For Jack, we knew his timeline was bound to be short, as he seems bound to be tall.** A couple of weeks ago, my mom generously bought Jack a new car seat so that he could face forward and no longer enjoy the view of the back seat over the tops of his knees. It’s a fine car seat and he genuinely likes it. However, the seat has some green trim on it which only further drives his appearance into leprechaun territory. But he gets to look out the window for a change, so he’s a happy leprechaun.

One of the Parenting Techniques of Last Resort for crying infants is a ride in the car. I never knew what, exactly, about riding in car lulled the little pre-people to sleep, but I also didn’t ask a lot of questions, gift horses and all that. It wasn’t a tactic we used often — maybe a half-dozen times total for both kids — but it was nice to have the option. However, we were grounded a bit once we realized that, for both our kids, going from rear-facing to forward-facing negated this tactic. I guess the thrill of watching the world go by behind a pane of tempered glass is just too much excitement to pacify an agitated kid. Once they started looking out the windshield, their in-car naps came to an end.

Both our kids, when rear-facing, would frequently nod off by the time we got home from errands or dinner or whatever, provided we were within an hour or so of their regular bed or nap times. This didn’t disrupt their nightly sleep routines too much, but it was ruinous for their naps. Even if they only slept ten minutes in the car before nap time, their little bodies decided that was their nap. And there was hell to pay.

Of course, physical comfort and psychological comfort are different. They’re as physically comfortable as pre-people can be whilst strapped into a 5-point harness. But physical comfort is not their only concern. There must be music. Joshua’s musical tastes are, in a word, fickle. He has a collection of CDs to which he listens exclusively, outright mocking our satellite radio subscription. One of these CDs is a rather clever one. It’s a collection of nursery rhymes set to music, but done so within the framework of a narrative about Jack and Jill, Georgie Porgie, and Mary Mary (nee Contrary) who are all on their way to Old King Cole’s birthday party. Ok, when I write it down, it doesn’t sound especially clever, but it’s not bad, as kid’s music goes. After the, oh, one-billionth time through this CD, the novelty has worn off. Joshua likes this CD, along with a few others similarly featuring nursery rhymes and old campfire songs and the like. He recently latched onto a CD by They Might Be Giants, a gift from his aunt and uncle. And while this is head and shoulders above the others***, it’s still quickly transitioning from Music I Actively Listen To to white noise.

Jack, mercifully, has no musical preferences yet. Or if he does, he’s so far unable to articulate them.**** Nonetheless, I know that there is a future more near than distant in which my kids cavil over precisely which recording of “John Brown’s Body” should come next in the queue. This will probably result in me forcing them to listen to selecting for them some choice tracks from the not-deep-enough catalogue of The Cranberries. In a few years time, they’ll be A) excellent at working together to make decisions, B) walking/bicycling everywhere they go, or C) big fans of The Cranberries.

From time to time, some people have been unfortunate enough to have needed or opted into a ride in our car, Most were skilled beyond their years in concealing their alarm at the, shall we say, “lived in” condition of our car. I have been in cars of parents with two or more children. Somehow, they keep their cars looking cared for, even clean. Our car looks like a parliament of owls just moved out. There are discarded milk jugs, Joshua’s innumerable letters and drawings of letters, Jack’s crumbs, trash from this and that and those. I suppose those other parents clean their vehicles. I’m happy for them, truly, but how they manage this feat while tending to pre-people is still cloaked in the shadows of mystery to me. I find that, after a day out with the boys, when we return home, I am content, if not ecstatic, to just get them out of the car and into the house, to make no mention of the detritus of their car ride entertainment. After a few days of this, a small layer of stuff has accumulated on the floorboards. After a few weeks, the car resembles a sort of rolling dumpster with seats. After a few months, it looks like the ground of the Midway on the last day of the carnival. I no longer recall with certainty the color of the floor mats in the back seat, or if I ever switched to them from the mud mats from last winter. Because, you know, I was concerned last winter with keeping the car clean.

 

*There seems to be a point of pride among parents in how long they were able to keep their kid(s) facing backward. Somewhere out there, a mom is driving her tweens around, still forced to stare out the back window, convinced she is protecting them.

**Tall is a relative condition. Jen is among the tallest of her family at a towering 5’4″. Similarly, my 5’9″ frame loomed over my parents and grandparents. We’re just hoping that Jack doesn’t end up taller than his older brother before they’re finished growing. That’s just sad.

***This in itself lends credence to the notion that they might, in fact, be giants.

****Or his name. Or his basic needs and wants. He really needs to start talking.

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