I was lamenting to my older daughter last week the feeling I had of being a taxi driver, as I drive my youngest child to and from school and a range of after-school activities most days. “Welcome to suburban parenting,” she chimed back.
Various surveys have identified the Washington DC area as the most congested in the United States, with congestion adding in excess of 70 hours to normal driving time. That aspect of life in this area is not a lot of fun. Over the past holiday weekend, I was shocked to find highways clogged during a Sunday afternoon. Seemingly endless construction projects and road closures add to the problem and the tension. I pity those who have to make the long commutes every work day. But the daily commute can be a grind, even if short.
I am not so much a victim of traffic congestion, as my journeys are relatively short, say 4-5 miles each way, taking about 15-20 minutes, but I do the same trip several times a day. I have a pretty good gauge of how long the journeys will take and what will be the choke points. But these short journeys can get stressful as you are in the midst of people and their cars trying to get to destinations for a certain time, and you can see and feel how people want to shave seconds and minutes off their journey. Whether that means driving too fast, or not heeding traffic signals, or blocking junctions, or swapping lanes haphazardly, it adds to the tensions even on a short drive. Their time in the car can be a waste of sorts, so they may be trying to do other things at the same time, such as eat, or talk and text on their phones, or apply make up, or shave, and other daily routines. So, you have to be aware of how that affects driving behaviour and try to avoid any unfortunate incidents, stay a little relaxed and not get ground down.
My little daughter and I often talk during the journey as I try to get some information about how the day may go or how the day has been. Sometimes, she lets me know something; at other times, it’s like cracking a rock. This is nothing new to parents.
“How was your day?”
“Did you get to play outside at recess?”
“Yes. I played kickball.”
“What did you have for lunch?”
When she told me recently that the day had been good because the science teacher handed out candy, I got a full explanation of how good behaviour and study by the whole class had led to this sweet reward. But, if she’s not having a good day, then I can sometimes wish I had never asked the question as I spark a flame that I did not know was ready to be ignited. “This is the worst day of my life….”
We know that for many people a car journey is not really exciting, and it’s often a challenge to find ways to get some entertainment out of having to sit in the metal box and bounce along highways or through city streets. I was amused last weekend, when a friend was discussing with his teenage son putting in behind-the-wheel driving time. The issue was not about the when but the ‘how’: the boy found being in the car for a couple of hours boring, so wanted to know if he could have his iPod on to stop himself getting bored. Father gave the idea short shrift, pointing out that he felt the iPod was a distraction and would not help his new driver to focus. Things reached an impasse and the car never got taken out for a ride during the afternoon.
What is interesting is that the matter of in-car entertainment can be a veritable battle ground. Who should be in charge? The driver? He or she may be happy with the choice, say soft classical or jazz music, or a radio discussion, but the others in the car are dying. The passengers? They may want a different selection, say, hip-hop and have it loud, and changing the channels as the songs lose favour. They are in heaven, but the driver is gritting his or her teeth. If more than one passenger, how do you decide? Hands flail for the controls of the car’s radio/CD/tape player. Tempers get frayed. Journey turns sour. No wonder that you now often see cars with a group of people each plugged into their own entertainment system.
With younger children along for the ride, entertainment options have to be varied. Books to read or with activities. Games, like I Spy, that involve looking for and finding things along the route. Music. Conversation. But, they too, soon want to exert control over the sounds in the car, with music or stories, at least. Barney for one or Barney for all? The children’s songs that keep them cheery soon because lodged in your brain and get hummed all day long :-). Or,the sound of their displeasure drowns out every other sound in the car. That, too, is not new for parents :-(.
My mind drifted onto this topic a few weekends ago, as I was free of any driving around. Tomorrow, we have a road trip to make, in the afternoon, after church. The car will be full with parents, older and younger children. The older child will just have come from a bus ride from New York. One of the parents will just be a day back from some horrible long distance air travel. As it will be Sunday, I hope that we will all be full of grace and smiles as we get into the car, and I hope that we can hold onto that to and from our destination.