Friday, October 7, 2011

He's Touching Me!

At some point when I was not paying attention, child safety laws must have changed.  Otherwise I can’t imagine how my family, with three boys in the backseat, was able to make even a routine trip to the grocery store, let alone a cross-country trek to see Mount Rushmore.

My parents did not spring for luxury cars while my brothers and I lived at home.  This may have had something to do with the odd reaction that leather has to chocolate milkshakes. Or it may have been related to the repeated experiments we attempted involving crayons left in the back window on sunny days.

So we spent our childhood in Honda Civics and Buick Regals, all with enough miles on them to put Magellan to shame. The back seat was not the idyllic realm of learning and entertainment that we often see in cars today. No, it was a wrestling mat, baseball field, and dining room, sometimes simultaneously. Countless times, the backseat was also a bedroom. It was genius really. The boy in the middle moved to the floor, where he could watch the road whiz by through holes in the floorboards, while the other two unbuckled their seatbelts in order to sprawl across the newly opened middle seat. 

Now that I have children of my own, things are a bit different. The use of car seats by children older than three has become something of a law. Now, I’m sure the world is safer because of it, (Or at least the car seat makers are richer) but I think we have lost something in the process. And when I say “we” I mean we the parents who have to purchase a new car seat for each year of our child’s life until 8th grade graduation. And when I say “lost something” I am referring to the $90 price tag on each of these new car seats. And when I say “process” I mean the endless dumbfounded stares in the car seat aisle as we try to distinguish between the level four and level five child safety seat.

A typical exchange between two normally rational adults might go something like this:
“Are you sure we need another car seat?”
“Yes, it’s the law in our state.”
“But our son is six years old.” 
“Yep, I’m pretty sure next year he can be in a booster seat instead.”
“Did you sit in a car seat when you were six years old?”
“No, I slept on the floor in the back seat, but times have changed.”
“This one has cup holders.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for safety.  I just don’t think when I pull up to school to drop my son off for the first day of second grade that I should have to get out of the car to unclip his safety seat. I don’t think I should need to use a chisel to clean my car because of fruit snacks dropped under a car seat in April that are discovered in November.

How are children supposed to learn about property rights, trespassing, and summary justice if they are unable to draw lines in the seats that siblings can’t cross? Being perched in a car seat makes such rites of passage impossible. The very fabric of our democracy may be at stake!  We have lost something here. Adventure, dignity, and another $90.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when the boys were little. If one of them was asleep in the car when I got to the store and it wasn't hot out, I would crack the windows, lock the doors and run in to do my shopping. The other day a police officer tried to ticket my friend because she ran into the gas station to get her receipt (which didn't print at the pump) without taking her three kids out of their carseats and hauling them with her. Really???? I was shocked. We didn't even have seatbelts in the old Buick my dad had! I agree with you Josh. Safety is a good thing but with the carseat rules, certain moments and memories have been sacrificed. I remember leaning up in the backseat and wrapping my arms around my dad and telling him how much I loved him. Today's daddies will never know that spontaneous affection. I am sure the safety guru's would argue that my hugs were a distraction to my dad but it probably felt good all the did to me!