Car Rides: The Sacred and Profane

Bridget prepares for a fun-filled, thrilling ride to the grocery store,
Bridget prepares for a fun-filled, thrilling ride to the grocery store,

My daughters continue to prove that at least some of our nature is inborn. Today’s lesson about innate differences in temperament? The car.

My husband loves cars. Whenever we are driving, he leers at other cars like a dirty old man at the beach. He talks a lot about the latest BMW, Lexus, and V-dub models, throwing out a bunch of engine-related numbers I don’t understand or care about while my eyes glaze over and knows exactly what everyone who lives in a 200 mile radius around us drives.

I, on the other hand, view a car as a method of getting from Point A to Point B, and want to be hassled by them as little as possible. I like cars that don’t break down so I don’t have to mess with them, and that about sums up my attitude toward driving. My parents were shocked by my lack of excitement about getting my license back when I was turning fifteen. Expecting an explosion of excitement on my birthday after they mentioned driver’s training, they were left flat when I just shrugged and said, “Yeah, I guess it’s time.”

This was downright un-American. Countless coming-of-age movies celebrate the Receiving of  The License, with all the heady freedoms it entails. We are lone, independent cowboys, and our cars are our trusty horses. My parents still love to talk about getting their licenses. Mom got a 98 % on her driving test (points were docked because she didn’t adjust a mirror or something) and she liked to rub it in dad’s face a lot because he got a measly 97%, or something along those lines…

I, on the other hand, failed my first driving test (much to my parent’s horror) but had the foresight to schedule a few on concurrent days in neighboring towns in case I needed to retake it. I barely passed my second test the next day, and I think I only squeezed by because the instructor had mistaken me for some girl that won a soccer award who had been in the local paper recently.

Unable to grasp my blasé attitude, my parents’ memories have exaggerated my apathy over the years to the point that they will swear up and down that I didn’t receive my license until I was about twenty. This is not the case, but it probably illustrates how unmotivated I seemed to them at the time.

So when my husband and I needed to buy a new car, you can imagine the debate. He wanted a car that was “sharp,” preferably red, and could go really fast. I could not, for the life of me, understand the need for a really fast car when we have to drive on a freeway with speed limits. When were we going to go really fast? When we got involved in a high-speed, heavy stakes car chase? When we transmuted ourselves to the Autobahn? Why pay for crappy gas mileage just so you could theoretically go from Point A to Point B faster? My unromantic attitude toward vehicles clearly made John’s heart hurt, but I just couldn’t pretend we were a couple of race-car drivers when we spent every day stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

We ended up compromising with a small red Prius. I realize that was a bigger compromise for him, but damn it, we cut our monthly gas bill in half.

And now we that we have little ones, we are watching our dual natures play out between our daughters. When Brontë was an infant, every car trip was a nonstop shriekfest that shredded every last mental nerve until the sweet, sweet release of destination arrival. I would hear about parents taking their babies on car rides to make them fall asleep and wonder what species they were talking about, because my baby always erupted into ear-shattering banshee wails the second we turned the ignition. She would only stop if I twisted my arm back around my seat, pretzeled through her rear-facing child seat, and pressed my fingers against her baby cheek… which I could manage to do for about ten minutes until I no longer could feel my arm past the shoulder. Eventually, I would yank my dead arm back into the front and shake it out until I had feeling again as our brains curdled from her deafening yelps.

Car rides are inevitable and it pained us to listen to her wailing without being able to explain what was happening, why she needed to be strapped down alone as the world flew by, backwards, at 70 miles an hour. It was such a relief when she grew big enough to turn around and start making eye contact with us in a forward-facing seat, and eventually when she learned enough English to understand her predicament.

Enter Bridget. I think my husband and I actually put our hands over our ears the first time we strapped Bridget in to the backseat and started the ignition (the first time since the hospital ride home, at least). We were completely unprepared to hear excited baby giggles, gentle murmuring, and finally *snoring* from the back seat. Bridget thinks car rides are the bomb. From the moment we pop her chair in the back seat, she perks up like she’s about to go on a Disneyland cruise. She beams at the whirling scenery, the gentle hum of the engine, before drifting off into deep baby slumber… you would think she were riding a unicorn carriage off to fairyland.

It’s funny how different kids are, even with all the same genetic ingredients. Brontë loves baby swings, giggling harder and harder the higher you pushed her since she was just old enough to sit up by herself. Bridget screams in terror at even the gentlest push on the swing. Yet Bronte was terrified by the same car rides that tranquillize her baby sister. Kids… they are such a moving target.

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