Thursday, May 3, 2012

Freaking Out for Car Seats

When my girls were still in bottles and diapers, I dreamt about the days with bottles and diapers. I wished forward to a time when the dishwasher wouldn't be full of bottles and nipples and the freezer wouldn't be full of frozen milk. I coveted the times when a diaper bag and all its wonderful contents would not be an absolute necessity every time we left the house. Those times are over for us, but there is another milestone that we just passed and it is the one that has been the bane of my existence for the past six years. Car Seats.

When I was young, from before I can remember to when I was eight or nine, my family had an old green and yellow Ford cargo van. It was a beauty. It had one bench seat in the back with an empty carpeted cargo area behind it, and we would ride the back of the bench seat like it was a horse, and play all sorts of games and wrestle in the back while Mom or Dad was driving us somewhere. Now, if there had been some sort of accident, all of us would likely have been killed or maimed for life and it goes without saying that I could never drive around the suburbs of Chicago or Chicago itself without my kids strapped safely in their seats, but car seats are a massive pain in the butt. When you see some new mother or father carrying an infant car seat around, it just doesn't translate to the viewer how awkward it feels to carry this heavy thing out away from your body so your legs don't bump it and have your arm turned in the wrong direction to hold it straight. It is like carrying a water bucket, but the water is sleeping and if it wakes up your wife will kill you, and if it gets cold the women in the store will scold you etc... I am sure there are some parents out there with three or more kids who can blame their "tennis" elbow on carrying their kids around in car seats. And then there is the getting of the heavy thing into the car. (not my best sentence) If you have a smaller car, it is a miracle if you don't bump your head and jerk the baby all over the place in the process, and if you have any back issues they will just get worse putting in car seats. They have to be facing backward for awhile and so you see the classic chauffeur set up with dad driving and mom in the back seat entertaining the baby.

Then you graduate to the front facing child seat that will last until the kid is old enough for a booster seat. This has become a modern marvel of luxurious padding that does everything but keep your kid from sweating through the back of his or her clothes. This still has the five-point harness system developed by Nascar and it attaches to the car itself in about five different places, making it especially difficult to transfer from one car to another. When you have one child and you have to fumble with this harness system every time you get in and out of the car, it isn't so bad, but when you are on your subsequent children and you have to fumble with all of this while keeping an eye on your other children and standing in the snow it gets a little bit more frustrating. And then there is ML.

IR had car seat issues. There were days in the car when she would writhe and scream and pull at her coat because everything was itchy, and I thought those days were bad, but something happened. IR was putting on her coat when she was about three and a half, and she said "Daddy, I'm not going to worry about my coat or my car seat anymore."

"Okay," was my response, and I was happy to hear it, but I didn't believe her. I was not prepared for the ability of my little three year old to just make a decision to be okay about something. I was completely unaware that a child's will could work in my favor. I was wrong. She simply stopped worrying about it and from that day on she never had a tantrum in the car about her coat or the car seat ever again. That is IR. Anybody who knows ML knows that that is not ML.

ML is always convinced that the seat belt is too tight. She is also convinced that the car seat somehow hurts her butt more than any other seat, and the last wonderful problem she has is that her lower back gets hot. Needless to say, we get all three of these complaints in the car sometimes, and winter is especially bad because of the winter coat situation. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that if we were in the car more than five minutes, ML was screaming, "Tooooo tight, Tooooo tight" in her hoarse tortured voice, or "My baaaack is hoooootttt, my baaaack is hooooott", or "My butt hurrrrrts, My butt hurrrrts." It even got to the point where she would lean forward, stick her left hand in between her legs, under her butt and reach back with her right hand to pull her coat up off of her lower back. She would ride that way for hours. The only analogy I can think of is that it looked like she was sitting on the toilet and wiping her butt with both hands at the same time. Timeouts didn't work. Taking toys away didn't work. Completely losing my mind and scaring both girls didn't work. Ignoring her didn't work. Although my dad did tell me that when she did it in his car, he just sternly told her to be quiet and she did. Thanks Dad, that makes me feel much better. That didn't work for us, so we took it one step further--we threw toys away. I would pick a toy for the day and put it in the car with me and if she started to wriggle and whine about her butt hurting or her back being hot, I would show her the little doll or the plastic horse that I thought was expendable and threaten to destroy it, and there were times that I wanted to destroy it--I wanted to put that innocent little doll on the asphalt and drive over it or smash that helpless little plastic horse with a hammer. But I refrained from the violence.

It only took two toys gently placed in the garbage for her to take me seriously, along with some concessions on our part--or my part--I won't include my wife in my illegal activities. I put her in a booster before she turned four, which didn't solve the problem, but made the old car seat seem even worse to her, and I folded up one of IR's old fleece coats and put it on her seat for cushion, which did help a little.

Now, both my girls get in their seats and put on their seat belts all by themselves, and errands don't seem so bad now...until they fight over who gets to sit in the front of the shopping cart.